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Editorial: What Brian Williams is telling us about modern journalism

By TNH Editorial Staff

When a journalist is the center of a national news story, chances are it’s not for good reason.

Brian Williams, the handsome NBC Nightly News anchor who took over for the legendary Tom Brokaw in 2004, admitted to embellishing accounts of his experiences in a military helicopter in 2003. Reports have indicated that he may have extended beyond the truth in other stories he reported on as well.

Network administrators suspended Williams for a period of six months. Firing Williams is also being considered, according to the Washington Post.

Williams has scarred the credibility of the network and it would be in NBC’s best interest to let Williams go. His credibility as a journalist is shattered and without the trust of your audience, there is not much else a television journalist has left to hold on to.

On Tuesday, the Concord Monitor stated in an editorial that the Brian Williams scandal “says something about the man but very little about the state of journalism.”

While we agree with the Monitor that Williams is only one in a minority of journalists with misguided integrity, we respectfully disagree on the latter portion of the statement. This situation actually reflects a lot of issues within the current condition of journalism.

The job of a journalist is just as challenging as it has always been, but the circumstances and environment have changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years. The responsibility of a journalist, theoretically, is to provide accurate and important information to the consumer so they can actively engage in democratic society. But in recent years, accuracy has too often been given the backseat to breaking news first. Providing content interesting enough to draw clicks that generate revenue is a priority as well. Why? Because it’s what the people want and journalism, like everything else, is a business as much as it is a public service.

Journalists, particularly at the national level, are turning into talking heads while losing touch with their responsibility as an honest reporter.

In the world of sports news, it’s everywhere. #DeflateGate was the top story in the sports world for a week and even seeped over onto the news side. Columnists and television personalities converged on the New England Patriots, calling for their AFC championship win to be vacated. Stories were written and discussions were had that contained more passionate opinion than sound facts. But as the facts continue to develop, responsibility seems to be less and less on the Patriots. And suddenly, the topic has been forgotten.

Brian Williams fell to the temptations of social status as he lobbied for Brokaw’s job in the early 2000s. He knew that if he made his experiences sound more extraordinary than they actually were, it would simply attract more viewers and increase his prestige among national commentators on current events.

Williams was suspended for six months without pay, as he should, because he broke the first commandment of journalism: tell the truth. Embellishment continues to grow in today’s media, driven by the need for clicks and Twitter followers.

Consumers must hold their journalists accountable. Williams lied because he thought that was the story the consumer wanted. And maybe he is right on that point.

While consumers may see news as entertaining, the development of it should not center on entertainment. It is too easy for facts to be pushed aside with entertainment on mind.

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