Thursday, September 24, 2009

'You can make it less brutal. . . .'

An item on the web site of the Columbia Journalism Review got noticed by Jim Romenesko at the Poynter Institute, but didn't get nearly the attention it should have.

That's probably because -- apart from all the folks who used to be network-TV journalists but aren't anymore -- CJR's online columnist Michael Massing might be the only media figure who gives a flying furlough. Sigh.

NEVERTHELESS, read this (and go read the whole thing, too) and try to decide what's more hopelessly screwed -- journalism or capitalism:

While doing some recent research on the news business, I came upon this remarkable fact: Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined. Couric’s salary comes to an estimated $15 million a year; NPR spends $6 million a year on its morning show and $5 million on its afternoon one. NPR has seventeen foreign bureaus (which costs it another $9.4 million a year); CBS has twelve. Few figures, I think, better capture the absurd financial structure of the network news.

This is not a new development, of course. It’s been unfolding since 1986, when billionaire Laurence Tisch bought CBS and eviscerated its news division in order to boost profits. (For a sharp, first-hand account of this process, see Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, The Business of News, and the Danger to Us All, by former CBS correspondent Tom Fenton.) But the issue seems worth revisiting in light of the recent naming of Diane Sawyer to replace Charlie Gibson as the anchor of ABC’s World News. We don’t yet know how much Sawyer is going to be paid, but it will no doubt surpass Gibson’s current estimated salary of $8 million. Sawyer will thus be perpetuating the corrosive, top-heavy system of the network news.

What’s striking is how little notice this received in the flood of coverage of Sawyer’s appointment. With the notable exception of Jack Shafer in Slate, who cheekily urged Sawyer to turn down the job “and persuade ABC News to divert the millions it ordinarily pays its anchor and spend it on 50 or 80 additional reporters to break stories,” the press treated her ascension as a dramatic milestone.
I DON'T THINK any further commentary is necessary. Except, perhaps, the above clip from Broadcast News.

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