Documentary examines challenges faced by TV news

By on April 2, 2008

While the average viewer may not suspect it, the thin line between between television news programs and their sponsors is deteriorating, according to assistant journalism professor Karin Schwanbeck.

Schwanbeck’s documentary “Deadlines and Dollars” examines the problem of how more news stations, under pressure from corporate owners, rely on crime stories to fill the news hole.

“There’s no incentive [to focus on investigative news] if your goal is money,” Schwanbeck said.

Schwanbeck, a former television news reporter, screened her documentary in Mancheski on March 25.

The documentary, which runs just over 59 minutes, highlights the current pitfalls of TV journalism, while crediting the tenacious reporters that contribute to the field.

According to Schwanbeck, emphasis on profit in TV news has grown in recent years.

Such financial motivations are derived from large corporations that own news organizations. Those corporations are far more interested in passing profit to their shareholders than the ideals of journalism. As a result, emphasis on good journalism has diminished.

News stations pursuing profit try to put as much news as possible on the air, employing the least reporters.

At one point in Schwanbeck’s career, she was responsible for putting out just one story a day. Reporters interviewed in “Deadlines and Dollars,” have to cut on average three stories a day.

“They have this huge news hole to fill, and not enough [material] to fill it,” Schwanbeck said.

Schwanbeck lamented her early days as a reporter when only lower quality stations focused on “crime and grime” stories.

“Karin precisely locates where the shift in broadcast journalism occurred from its ideal state to its present and, as such, conveys thematically how the promise of broadcast news has turned into peril because of the pressure from corporate ownership to increase profits,” said Assistant Professor of Journalism Richard Hanley via e-mail.

“Deadlines and Dollars” also sought to highlight the work of tenacious reporters, despite less than optimal conditions.

Behind-the-scenes footage put viewers directly in the shoes of TV journalists. The documentary primarily focused on reporters in the Hartford and New Haven markets.

Schwanbeck emphasized her admiration for the reporters shown in “Deadlines for Dollars”.

“I think all the reporters in this market are wonderful,” she said.

She especially lamented the poor use of such excellent journalists.

“These reporters are well trained and educated,” she said. “What a waste of intellect and talent, to have them stuff sausage with crime and spot news”.

The film effectively conveyed the sometimes difficult lifestyle of TV reporters.

“The documentary showed that despite the conflicted nature of the job and the tensions between the ideal situation and the reality, reporters nevertheless go to work each day and do the best they can as true professionals under uncertain and often psychologically debilitating conditions,” Hanley said.

The film took 18 months, 53 tapes, and much research to produce.

Schwanbeck said that her desire to carry out this project originated even earlier. “I knew a couple of years ago I wanted to do this,” she said.

Before showing the film, Schwanbeck thanked Dean of the School of Communications David Donnelly, as well as Dean for Academic Services and Research Support Linda Broker, for their help.

Later, she made it clear that her goal was not to criticize the Hartford-New Haven market. Instead, she wanted to reflect a broad problem within TV news all across the United States.

In addition to Hanley, other faculty attended the screening, including Assistant Professors of Journalism Sean Lyons and Margarita Diaz.

Donnelly also attended.

Lyons brought some of his students, and members from the local community came as well.

Many of those students participated in a discussion with faculty and local residents afterward. Topics included the evolution of TV journalism, and possible solutions to the problems plaguing the industry.

Schwanbeck is optimistic about the role that aspiring reporters will certainly play in the evolution of journalism. “I have high hopes that they will do us proud,” she said.


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