Greg David does a nice job highlighting one reason why so many "traditional" journalism offerings are in trouble these days, in discussing why no news reporters seemed willing to point out that Jeff Zucker would surely be moved out of NBC
once the Comcast takeover was done. While that news was finally made official
recently, before that, the press dutifully reported the claim that Zucker would remain. Yet, as David points out, almost everyone covering the space knew it wasn't true, but they felt they had to report it because they couldn't quote someone to say otherwise
, or they might lose access to NBC. After detailing why it was inevitable that Zucker would be tossed, David explains:
Reporters knew all this. Some believed they couldn't write it unless someone told them it would happen. They also knew that if they did write Mr. Zucker was doomed, he might not be accessible to them and he could even shut the NBC Universal door entirely to reporters who angered him.
The end result, of course, is that readers of the NBC stories wonder why the reporters were so wrong about Mr. Zucker's future.
I visited an undergraduate journalism class at Baruch last week and was asked how much advertising pressures affected editorial coverage in my years as editor of Crain's. The answer was hardly at all. Rather, I told the students, reporters self-censor themselves not over concern about advertising but because they want access to companies.
The Zucker story showed that once again that is reporters' interest in access not advertisers who censor the news.
In some ways, though, this is all a damaging circle. They need "access" because that's how they get those meaningless quotes that allow them to say what they know is true, but won't say without a quote. This is partly why I keep trying to explain to PR people that I don't want or care about access to companies in most cases. My posts tend to be me saying what I believe -- and if someone from a company has something important to say, they can say it in the comments. If reporters were more willing to actually say what they know and not worry so much about access (which isn't nearly as valuable as they think), perhaps people would actually trust them a bit more.