An Editorial on a Local TV Newscast?

I was surprised to see an editorial at the very end of the local NBC affiliate’s 11 o’clock newscast last night. I’m not saying that they did a story that was so opinionated that it should be considered an editorial rather than a news story (that wouldn’t have been so surprising). It wasn’t even a commentary from a single person’s point of view, a la Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, or the experiment with outside commentaries that CBS did when Katie Couric first took over the CBS Evening News.

No, this was explicitly an editorial along the lines of what you see in most newspapers, labelled as such on the screen and with the station’s “Editorial Director” using the royal “we” to describe the station’s editorial position (you can watch it yourself here). The topic was same sex marriage and domestic violence, and this was the summation:

NBC Bay Area believes that to protect marriage, we should spend time and energy on problems that truly affect marriage, and stop using the word “protection” to disguise discrimination. That’s what we think; what do you think? Log on to NBCeditorials.com.

I’ve lived in several cities around the country, and have watched a lot of different local newscasts in those cities, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a newspaper-style editorial done by a TV station before. So I’m curious if I’ve just had my head in the sand, or if this is as unusual as I think it is. I tend to watch the CBS affiliate’s local newscast most nights, but I do occasionally watch the ABC or NBC affiliate instead, and I’ve never seen them do this before. The page you reach when you go to NBCeditorials.com lists only one other editorial, from May 20th, so maybe this is a new feature.

Does anyone know of any other TV stations which do editorials?

11 Responses to “An Editorial on a Local TV Newscast?”

  1. Carol Polk says:

    Perhaps the local tv news is picking up the responsibility to provide a mainstream opinion now that there are fewer newspapers (and readers) to do it.

  2. wordnerd says:

    Maybe new, but old too. In NY in the 60’s editorials at the end of the local newscast (which went from 6 to 7 on WCBS at least) were a commonplace. The guy who read them was called the editorial director then too.

  3. ng says:

    This used to be a regular feature on one of the Boston stations (I forget the network affiliation because they’ve changed), at the end, by a manager of some sort, and announced as such. Then they dropped away, and I haven’t seen any for probably twenty years. Will be interesting to see if this becomes a (re)new(ed) trend. Carol’s analysis is interesting.

  4. Gene says:

    I remember them growing up in the 70’s back in Michigan. Media has always provided a mainstream opinion based on what they report (or don’t) and how they report it, but this is a more overt way of voicing their opinions. In theory it can mean the editorializing is left out of the reporting, but the news director still has a lot of say in what and how things are reported.

  5. dc says:

    Thanks for the history. I had no idea that editorials on newscasts had once been more common. Adding to Carol’s point, I also wondered if the introduction of editorials is part of a more general effort to liven up newscasts and get people to become active users of the station’s website. NBC Bay Area just hired a writer/editor from Gawker Media (!) to be the editorial director of its website, and many stations (along with newspapers and magazines.) seem to be adding blogs to their sites and encouraging their reporters and anchors to start blogs, where they are allowed to show a bit more opinion or personal perspective than they do on air. Many stations encourage people to go to their websites and post comments about stories, etc. This goes along with the trend toward having anchors show more “personality” by bantering with each other on air, and offering little personal asides after a reporter has finished with his or her story, and so on.

    Maybe we really are creeping toward a more European model of journalism, in which news outlets are less abashed about having a particular partisan or ideological stance.

  6. ng says:

    The 11:00 p.m. CBS and NBC local newscasts in Boston both have a very opinionated guy come on each night with some sort of contrarian attempting-to-be-clever commentary, but neither is announced as an editorial, and both are part of the cozy banter going on between the two anchors, so there’s no attempt to keep it separate from the ‘news’. (The ones I remember from the past were quite separate, and serious, so at least there was that illusion of keeping the opinion out of the news reporting.)

  7. eric says:

    I wondered if the fact that these stations are using the public airwaves and are legally required to operate “in the public interest” put limits on their editorial freedom. Apparently not–but it may be that for this and other reasons TV stations are more cautious about overtly taking public stances. I suppose it’s a good thing that they are becoming more comfortable with acting like a responsible adult authority. We need more of the kind of sober, reasoned, cautious public voices that editorials offer, and less shrill debate; this is something I myself am only slowly learning–learning partly, like everyone else, from our (sometimes maddeningly) sober, reasoned President.

  8. ruth gutmann says:

    When Walter Cronkite was anchor on the CBS evening news (1960s and 1970s), there was Eric Severeid*, a former Ed Murrow associate, who almost nightly commented shortly but incisively on one of the subjects touched upon during the newscast. *name provided by Sam. Daniel Schorr on NPR is now heard more rarely — he is over 90.

    As for these new editorials on your local newscasts, it may, among other things, be an invitation to more participation, and thus internet-like. On “Beat the Press”, Emily Rooney’s Friday eve program, I hear so many complaints by broadcasters of local Boston stations about their losses of audience share.

    By the way, the NYT’s Dealbook author today opined on MSNBC that companies whose workers are unionized do much worse financially. It was picked up by TPM and caused quite a stir. Even his apology (“I was wearing my columnist hat”) was unrelenting. Lists of successful companies were enumerated to point out how wrong he was. Even Hoffa responded, though not as effective as I would have hoped.

  9. dc says:

    Ruth: That reporter, Andrew Ross Sorkin, came straight to the NYT business desk from Yale or whatever Ivy he went to. I didn’t know him and was gone shortly after he started, but he’s probably only 31 or so, and was seen as a rising star from the day he stepped into the newsroom. (I assume he’s a member of the Newspaper Guild himself, incidentally.) The Times has always been anti-union, and most of the business reporters have fully digested the worldview of Wall Street analysts and corporate executives (their labor reporter, Steve Greenhouse, is actually very fair-minded, and some other people like Lou Uchitelle also sometimes pay attention to the plight of regular people as well as the investor class, but they are exceptions.)

    I liked Andy Stern’s question at Talking Points Memo: why is the “success” of a company always defined only by profits and stock price, and never by measures such as the number of people they employ at decent wages, or other ways they may contribute to the public good?

    “Lapses” like Sorkin’s are often very revealing. The real problem with the press isn’t “bias,” but rather a blinkered view of the world which relies on a small number of insiders to determine what counts as acceptable discourse. The most notorious example of this was the herd of Washington reporters who failed to question the reasons given for invading Iraq, while literally millions of regular people outside that bubble could see that it was a likely catastrophe being justified by thin or bogus rationales.

    Another recent example is NPR reporter Adam Davidson, who badgered Elizabeth Warren of the TARP oversight board about how she is wrong to think that solving the financial crisis also requires addressing the broader debt crisis affecting regular people. He described her concern for American families as “your pet issues” that should be set aside for now. That was egregious enough, but what I thought was really telling was when he later tried to explain to his cohost why he had been so belligerent with Warren: he wishes the panel hadn’t been made up of “controversial” people like her, but rather a bunch of “smart” and “well-respected” people like the people that he talks to all the time. Literally! Here’s a partial transcript of his explanation for why he was so hostile to Warren:

    “[Congress] could have taken a bunch of well-respected economists and banking experts from across, you know, Democrats, Republicans, non-partisan, you know, just, the kind of people we talk to on Planet Money all the time, just well-respected people who spent their careers understanding in an unbiased way how the banking and financial system work, and just let them do smart, substantive analysis like the 9/11 commission, you know, non-partisan, senior statesmen, really smart thinkers, that kind of thing, And if they did that, because, you know, anyone who listens to Planet Money knows that there’s a lot of things that Democrats, Republicans, just smart economists, smart securities lawyers, smart financial experts, agree is wrong or is problematic in the Treasury response, or just have other ways of approaching this crisis.”

    He then contrasts those “smart, well-respected” people with Warren: “Elizabeth Warren, you know, I think she genuinely believes her views, I think she genuinely believes they’re true, but they are highly controversial, and they are very much associated not just with the Democratic Party but with the left wing of the Democratic Party. And my issue isn’t the merits of any of these particular views held by any of the panel members, it’s just…”

    He never finishes that sentence, but the implication is clear: it’s more important to have “well-respected” “financial experts” and “senior statesmen” overseeing TARP than a heterodox outsider academic like Warren, regardless of whether Warren’s views are actually correct and regardless of whether those “smart, well-respected financial experts” are likely the same people who either got us into this mess or else failed to see that there was any problem on the horizon.

  10. ruth gutmann says:

    David: you are correct about the NYT’s views on unions. Perhaps the first labor reporter was Abraham Raskin who also was smart & very fair. Uchitelle’s reports on workers attempting retraining, probably part of his book, were good also. I agree with you on Steven Greenhouse (related to Linda?) I’ve never listened to planet money but have long known about Prof.Warren who teaches at Harvard, so this clash was unknown to me. What young (?) men like Adam Davidson, specially hired by NPR for this program, do not grasp is that Elizabeth Warren has studied economics and credit history of the family and its problems for so many years, it is part of her DNA.
    As for (not) investigating the decisions to go to war against Iraq: two Knight-Ridder, now McClatchy, reporters relentlessly uncovered the “reasons.” Many Months ago Bill Moyers featured them when he went back over those reasons, and a week ago Frank Rich mentioned them w/o crediting Bill Moyers for bringing them to our attention in the first place.

  11. dc says:

    That Moyers show was good. He made the point that those two KR reporters, unlike the Judy Millers of the press corps, were not based in Washington, so that might partly explain how they were able to avoid the groupthink that their peers suffered from.

    In Frank Rich’s defense, Moyers wasn’t the first to point out the quality of Knight Ridder’s pre-war reporting. Michael Massing, for one, singled out Knight Ridder’s work for praise as early as February 2004 in the NY Review of Books (scroll down to section “4” for the discussion of Knight Ridder).

    I don’t know whether Steven and Linda are related. My impression was that they aren’t, but that was just an impression. They are both good reporters and nice people, so maybe that qualifies as family resemblance…

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