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by Jason Salzman
Have you been wondering why you are not very well informed after watching those morning "news" shows on network television? You know, those are the ones featuring Bryant Gumbel, Katie Couric, the hottest available celebrity, or the latest fish craze. They have everything thats irrelevant to balanced journalism, like CBS new $30 million glass studio off Central Park, raging helicopters, concerts, McWeather, diets, diets, and more diets, with spikes of dramatic hard news thrown in like cayenne pepper.
You have to be very sleepy in the morning to believe these shows are at all enlightening, except to the ardent sociologist. Clearly, they are not "news," but entertainment.
As if there was much doubt about this, an event took place last month to quell any lingering hopes you might have that these shows serve up news in the morning. Any wish that they even try to capture the elements of professional journalismlike fairness, breadth, accuracy, and other public interest news functionscan now be buried.
Heres what happened, prefaced with a bit of background information:
The leader of the hyper-competitive morning programs is NBCs "Today." And the man credited for making NBC number one in the morning is Jeff Zucker, its executive producer. Last month he made career move.
Where does a 35-year-old news exec like Zucker go after seven years as the leader of the nations top morning "news" show? What great news opportunity awaits him? How will he follow his high-minded ideals of journalism in the future?
Zucker will now take over NBCs entertainment division.
So, NBCs chief entertainment guy learned what he needs to know for his job by being a journalist? Does working for morning TV news shows prepare you for a career in the entertainment business? Zucker thinks so. Heres what he told the New York Times: "I think I have a good gut for what people want to watch. Working on Today I got a daily sense of what people are looking for, what theyre interested in."
He also says hes been innovative as a journalist, which will help him in his new entertainment career. For example, one of his successful innovations was sending NBC host Matt Lauer into the field for a segment called, "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" That is truly a beautiful innovation, but is it news?
Its easy to understand how someone like Zucker makes the upward move from NBCs news division to its entertainment division. As a "journalist" on Americas leading morning show, Zucker has already been in the entertainment business for seven years. It would have been startling if Zucker moved to a real news outlet, like a respectable newspaper, after his tenure at NBC. His decision to move to the entertainment division makes sense.
Jason Salzman is author of Making the News: A Guide for Nonprofits and Activists and President of the Board of Directors of Rocky Mountain Media Watch, a Denver-based non-profit organization challenging news outlets to meet the highest standards of professional journalism.