The Fading Line Between Journalism And Entertainment

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Interesting piece by Matea Gold in the Los Angeles Times on Brian Williams of NBC News showing his “lighter side.”   Gold reports that William’s move to loosen up and put in appearances on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live”  hasn’t done any damage to his ratings.  The story includes a quote from the former president of NBC News, Lawrence Grossman, who notes that crossing over into entertainment is a departure from traditional news values.

“It was frowned upon for the news anchors — who are supposed to pull the country together in times of crisis — to be to flip,” Grossman said. “I think we tolerate a lot more of that now than back in the day when network news was the holy grail. But it still requires some discipline and some boundary lines.”

Remember Peter Jennings or Walter Cronkite crossing over and doing comedy bits?  David Brinkley doin’ the old soft shoe?  I’m pretty sure it never happened.  Those who continue to act as advocates for credible journalism would undoubtedly condemn the mix of news with entertainment as being nothing more than a desperate grab for viewers at a time when network news ratings have taken a big slide.

I too am guilty of participating in this crossover from news to entertainment.  Years ago I was offered a cameo in a “Columbo” movie on tv and I accepted.   I was working in Hollywood, where taking a cameo in a movie or tv show was commonplace.  I later turned down a role as a reporter in the movie “Volcano.”   My reasoning for accepting one and rejecting the other was that an appearance in a classic show like “Columbo” (or what I believe will eventually be a classic) was of no damage to my reputation as a broadcast journalist.  Showing up in a film about a Volcano blowing its top all over Wilshire Boulevard in West LA, would be a different matter entirely.   Nevertheless, I’m probably in no position to be casting stones.

If the boundary that separates news from entertainment is becoming generally blurry, sometimes it’s being blown entirely away.  Again from the Los Angeles Times, a story about one of its own.   This time it’s entertainment reporter Dawn  Chmielewski, who kicks up her heels doing a salsa number as a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars.”  Okay, so the bit was staged so that the paper would be able to do a “first person” story that was not intended to go out over the air.   Even with that, it was not so very long ago that the newspaper would not have allowed one of its reporters to cross over and become a part of the story.  Now they’re not only giving it ink, they also provide a link so that people like me can embed a clip of  Chmieleswki doing her thing on the show.   Here it is, and whatever you may think of Chmielewski putting herself in the postion of a reporter becoming the story — the woman has more courage than I ever had.

Ron Olsen

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