Why do newspapers delight in critiquing TV news?

It’s happened again.  Another newspaper critic is trashing some local TV news coverage.  This time the target was Baltimore’s WMAR and its online coverage of the verdict in the Mayor Sheila Dixon case.

Critic David Zurawik even took the time to offer an unofficial  transcript  of what he saw.

WHILE STREAMING: “They want a live interview … See if they’ve got someone to talk to … Get Rohrbaugh … anybody … Don’t they have another analyst down there? Whoa, looks like they’ve got someone important … Come on … You just want to pull it up live? Ready … What did he say? He said what? [inaudible] About stepping down … [inaudible] … All right, here comes city hall.”

ON AIR: “Mayor Sheila Dixon and her attorney Arnold Weiner reacting to today’s verdicts. One guilty verdict in this case: misappropriation of gift cards given to Dixon by the city. As far as her status from this point on, Weiner says all things are being considered. No firm answer on whether or not she will step down. Mayor Dixon, though, being very clear, saying at this point the city will move, they’ll continue to do business as usual. She says she has a budget hearing this afternoon and she is on her way to City Hall. We will continue to update you on this story. Stay tuned to ABC News and abc2news.com for any updates.”

So, my two big questions:  1) what’s the point of this type of critique and 2) with newspaper staffs getting cut right and left, is this a good use of valuable reporting resources?

Don’t get me wrong, if a TV station does something unethical or illegal, that warrants a story.  But this just seems trivial.

I asked some of the most thoughtful print journalists I know why papers seem to love pointing fingers at the foibles of TV news.  David Cullier teaches at the University of Arizona.  He questioned the value of this type of critique.

“I don’t see why this column merited newspaper space. It seems petty to point out a little fumbling during a live news event. Fumbling happens, and as long as the reporters are trying to be accurate and get at the truth, readers and viewers can accept technical difficulties,” Cullier said.

He went on to point out that “there is some evidence indicating that Web viewers actually prefer online video that is less polished, and more real and raw.”  He also questioned why newspaper media critics don’t put their own publications under equal scrutiny.

“Is it any different when a newspaper botches a jump from a Page One story to a wrong page? Or the myriad of typos, confusing design, or missing sections?” Cullier asked.

In fact, I once worked for a news director who asked us to a do a series of TV stories on the local newspaper.  One piece focused on how much money the paper made from accepting advertising from local strip joints and one focused on the amount of news vs. ads in the paper.  You would have thought we had set fire to the editor’s car!

Cullier feels the media needs watching, but not finger pointing.

I’m all for media critics (we could use a lot more of them!), but let’s focus on the real problems in the media, both television and newspapers. I would like to see critics analyze declining news holes, poor staffing of bureaus/politics coverage, ethics breaches, lapdog reporting, increasing reluctance to sue for public records, and shoddy shortcuts being taken to make up for newsroom cuts. Those are real issues with real impact on our lives.”


3 comments for “Why do newspapers delight in critiquing TV news?

  1. December 5, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Sort of like the Restaurant health department reports. TV, and Print in Tucson combine to bite the very hand that feeds them with advertising. Instead of reportilng on transportation, education,…they report of cock a roches….

    Media is dead, integrityless, and sometimes heartless, often actually..

  2. December 6, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    As a Baltimore resident and a follower of TV and print news here, let me say that it was a little over the top. I do read Mr. Zurawik’s blog, but its about stats.

    This was on the home page of the Baltimore Sun web site along with the enormous coverage of our mayors trial.

    Just another example of a newspaper/blog who tries to stay relevant in the technology age.

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