Accuracy in Media

NBC Evening News anchor Brian Williams, who just won the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism at Arizona State University, is nostalgic for the days of NBC hero given tribute in the name of the award.

Williams also isn’t a big fan of the Internet, proving that he is as much a news dinosaur as Cronkite. In his acceptance speech for the award yesterday, Williams lamented the rise of blogs and Twitter as signs of “all things civic … being replaced by all things narcissistic.”

He acknowledged that the Web is occasionally home to “deep, sometimes brilliant work” that informs people. But Williams seemed far more concerned with the “way too much material” online that he compared with “words written on a subway wall.”

“There’s journalism, and there’s everything ending in “LOL,” he said only half-jokingly.

Here is a transcript of that section of Williams’ acceptance speech:

I won’t today deliver a homily or a lecture or a screed about our business because we all know what’s happening in the news business — and that is that we have no idea what’s happening to the news business. One hundred seventy-five thousand blogs are created every day — 175,000 new blogs. We have 113 million to date. Twitter will have … 26 million users years by the year 2010.

… All things civic, it seems some days in this country, are being replaced by all things narcissistic — one of the changes in the times since Walter Cronkite ruled the airwaves and came into our homes. We have confused in many cases tonnage with knowledge, and while we aren’t learning more there is generically more out there.

Facts matter less. Throw experience in there, too. We’re all finding it’s a heck of a lot easier to voice an opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to go and report back home on what you find.

On the Web, there is way too much material, way too much, with the heft and the value and the impact of words written on a subway wall. And at the same time, there is also deep, sometimes brilliant work being done.

It’s all out there if you’re able to find it. And it’s all there if you know the difference. There’s journalism, and there’s everything ending in “LOL.”

Williams is right that much of what passes for information on the Internet is useless. But like so many of his “professional” colleagues in the media, he is misguided in his criticism of the Web and the new media outlets it has spawned.

His comments reminded me of my behind-the-scenes visit to the Newseum for bloggers just before it opened. Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association was there, and I interviewed him in front of the “Sex! Crime! Scandal!” display that highlighted some of the historical the flaws of old media.

“I don’t see any bloggers up here on this wall,” Cox said, “so I can tell you maybe it’s the traditional media that’s been doing that.”

Some bloggers undoubtedly will be immortalized for journalistic transgressions in the future. But while the emergence of new media tools has amplified the flaws of the media, the problems have existed for a long time. In fact, the shortcomings of old media, including their longstanding liberal bias, help explain the success of new media.

One Accuracy in Media fan on Twitter noted the irony of Williams’ lament about the current state of media. “So when ‘the people’ turn our attention away from journalists, we are narcissistic?”

Not at all. Rather, we are discerning listeners who are thrilled that we now have access to both the news wheat and chaff. We trust ourselves to separate it better than Walter Cronkite, Brian Williams and the narcissists of media past ever have.

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