It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white — or trained

Last July, MSNBC news hired preacher Al Sharpton for its 6 p.m. time slot – causing some outcry from African-American journalists such as Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times.

Deggans and members of the National Association of Black Journalists criticize MNSBC for hiring journalists simply for names recognition sake – and to ensure that diversity on the air is meant. MSNBC in particular has been cited for this habit as the station has also hired such non-journalistic African-American talent as Alan Keyes.

Recently, Deggans sat down to talk to Phil Griffin, the president of MSNB, about the stations apparently bad habit of hiring non-journalist to do what is supposedly a journalists job. The verdict?

Apparently, Griffin couldn’t care less. The president of the popular broadcasting network doesn’t “care about journalists. . .  [he] [wants] fair minded, smart people who understand the world, who can interpret it.”

Correct me if I’m wrong – but isn’t that what journalists are trained to do?

Although Deggan concedes that there certainly are big names in the industry today (think Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteran) who did not come from journalistic backgrounds, he does not necessarily condone the trend. In fact, he points out that journalists are trained to “fairly handle information and arguments.”

He also notes that those trained as journalists generally strive to “observe a code of behavior in which we are fair in how we handle arguments, accurate in how we report facts and transparent in how we do our work, avoiding conflicts of interest which may influence us in ways the reader (or viewer) is not aware.”

Those not trained as journalists, though they may have the best of intentions, are often not as aware of the finer points of these guidelines as a journalist may be. How can these people act as a watchdog on the government when they have not been trained to do so fairly?

What do you guys think? Is it fair that major news stations give away air time to celebrities who are not even journalists? Is it dangerous to democracy in any way? Could it contribute to the increasingly partisan nature of today’s news coverage? Could it be adding more bias?

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3 Comments on “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white — or trained”

  1. Maria Torres says:

    In that hiring celebrities leads to the increasingly partisan nature of the news, I must agree. As you’ve pointed out, these people aren’t trained journalists and they don’t know all the guidelines. They might understand that objectivity is the cornerstone of the profession, but they probably don’t know how to properly handle that aspect. So of course they’re going to make biased opinions and they might potentially get themselves into a sticky situation with a misplaced comment.

    But I don’t think it’s unfair that celebrities are given airtime — as long as they have something relevant and insightful to contribute. They can learn the tools of the trade as they go. I would, however, have a problem if networks are giving away airtime solely for recognition’s sake. I know ratings are just as important to TV news as to TV shows but the line has to be drawn somewhere. If there are people out there — trained journalists — who can handle a subject journalistically, professionally and adequately, networks shouldn’t overlook them just to bring up their ratings with celebrities. It wouldn’t be fair to the already flailing profession that is journalism, where journalists are struggling to keep or get jobs. Celebrities should go find their own places to vent, outside of the news networks. Go to Comedy Central or something. That’d be a little more appropriate, as far as the integrity of journalism is concerned.

  2. Celebrities are a draw for news organizations. Look at Fox News which hired Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee to draw in the public with big names. It makes sense if the goal of news is to make a profit. It doesn’t make sense if the goal of journalism is to pursue the truth and inform the public.

    NBC shouldn’t have hired Al Sharpton. NBC should cover Al Sharpton. Hiring a person because he is a black minister is not diversity — it’s ignorance. There are plenty of intelligent journalists out there. Why pick a non-journalist for a journalism station if not for entertainment? It’s silly.

  3. dws1210 says:

    I believe that Griffin’s stance on hiring non-journalists to report the news is a waste of good talent and time. It is particularly discouraging to hear to me because I’m spending time learning to be a journalist only to hear from Griffin that it won’t make me anymore qualified than the next person. However, Griffin’s opinion is not all too uncommon; just as CNN has given a show to Jesse James before. The fact that celebrities are given top-anchor jobs comes off as a greedy way to boost ratings to me. Also, non-journalists are not as familiar with the code of ethics that journalists practice which leaves more margin for their opinions and bias in news coverage. Theoretically, Griffin’s idea of putting an already familiar name and face on the air is a good one; but it’s putting the credibility of news in jeopardy.


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