Wednesday, February 28, 2007

PBS Frontline Series: "News Wars"

I highly recommend the Frontline series on the transformations occurring in US news gathering organizations. It can be found here.

The segment last night discussed the decline of hard news reporting and the accompanying decline in the fortunes of the former big three network broadcast news organizations. Interviews with Dan Rather and Tom Bettag (former executive news producer) discuss the impact of bottom-line considerations on news gathering capabilities:

Announcer: Then is the 80's with Reagan-era deregulation, there was a series of corporate takeovers. Capital Cities bought ABC. General Electric bought NBC. And Larry Tisch of the Loews Corporation took over CBS.

Bettag: And Tisch looked at a very fat CBS and said "I'll bet that I can cut 33% of this organization out and deliver a product that is 90% as good. And if I can do that, I can make Wall Street incredibly happy, I can make my investors happy and that's what business is about.

Announcer: In 1987 Tisch ordered the biggest budget cuts in the history of CBS News.

Reporter: This period in the '80's where you have deregulation, you have an experienced money man, Larry Tisch, comes in and cuts CBS News down to size. Cuts you down.

Rather: I think the biggest difficulty was, and he said this in my presence once, he said, "Dan, your problem is you don't understand business. You're a good reporter. I'm glad you're with us, but you don't understand business." Well, the difficulty was Larry Tisch did understand business, but he didn't understand this business.

Bettag: When Larry Tisch left CBS it was not the same news organization by a lot that was there when he came.

Announcer: The once top rated CBS Evening News fell to third place and has, for the most part, stayed there.

Tisch could see immediate monetary value in the CBS brand, but he couldn't see the value over time and for the rest of the organization of maintenance of the brand itself.

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