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Panel with two prominent local TV execs about challenges keys discussion of media accuracy

No time could be more logical for a conversation about accuracy in media than political season and presidential debates.

So this column is by way of sharing such a conversation between a couple of old-media "believers" about increasingly common challenges to old convictions, like how important is media accuracy? What does "accuracy" mean? Accurate to whom? Is it losing its importance? And what is media anyway?

Except the conversation in question was generated not by the political season, but by a panel discussion earlier that day in which I got to question two of Seattle's most respected television executives at the Columbia Tower Club's "Q and A with a CEO" series about the state of television now and challenges to come.

Pam Pearson, vice president and general manager of Tribune-Broadcasting owned KCPQ13, and Rob Dunlop, president and CEO of KCTS9, the local public-television station, both expressed conviction about the importance of local news and information to their stations.

Pearson, who was an executive at Tribune stations in Los Angeles and Chicago before arriving in Seattle in 1999, and Dunlop, who brought 20 years as a top executive with Seattle's Fisher Broadcasting when he arrived in fall of 2013 to guide Seattle's public-television station, have led with their actions rather than their words on this issue.

Pearson, who got her start in news as a reporter for Ted Turner's CNN in Atlanta, has added 10 hours a Day of local news programming to her station's offerings while Dunlop has acquired the on-line news journal Crosscut.com and emerging local website What's Good 206, which presents a millennial perspective on local issues.

Both Pearson and Dunlop have set a premium on quality journalism for their stations, even though news and information are only a portion of their offerings.

The discussion with Pearson and Dunlop ranged well beyond their news commitment since both are leaders in a medium that is challenged as never before by audience segments that can now find their content anywhere, and in fact create content themselves.

And Dunlop shared that his Channel 9 audience that includes about a quarter who are in the 4-to-11 age range. And even that audience is already straying to get their entertainment from devices other than the television screen.

What they are both aware of as they consider what the future holds is that commitment and quality don't carry any guarantee of success in a world where virtually anyone can be a content provider in the internet era, and that as it relates to news, the quest for accuracy is not necessarily pervasive.

As Pearson noted, "There are so few actual barriers to entry into the digital world by content providers...and it is very difficult to know what's credible."

And that question of credibility in news keyed the later conversation with a friend of mine, Pat Scanlon, who is responsible for the existence of this weekly email column because he pressed me six years ago, after my retirement from Puget Sound Business Journal, with "you should have a blog and I'll show you how."

Scanlon has since become what could be described as "the guru of all things digital on behalf of old-line media companies" and is thus versed in emergence of an array of digital content, having built a digital network of perhaps 200 small daily newspapers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and later USA Today's national high school content.

The conventional media issue of "fact check" in debates or political discussion is a noble effort but one that makes few friends since there is a sense that "most people don't want to read the truth or the unbiased facts, they want to read things that support or reinforce their conclusion,"as one media observer put it.

"When all is said and done, only the local TV station or newspaper, of whatever size, has the tools that make them the perfect brands to hold authority accountable - journalistic standards combined with brand equity in their communities," Scanlon said. "But their window of opportunity to capitalize on this positioning is closing, and slowly some online-only outlets are making ground on the credibility required to perform this function and take this position."

I shared with him that I am less concerned about new-media content-creators and bloggers for whom credibility based on accuracy is the goal but rather on bloggers and other content providers who seek to acquire credibility without being forced to be accurate.

An example that constantly comes to mind for me is bloggers who provide paid content, meaning they are paid by the subjects of their blogs, without readers being made aware of that key fact.

Since I think that is a broader problem then people may realize, I once suggested to a newspaper publisher that he could cement a relationship with the social-media audience by regularly running a well-researched page about what blogs readers can trust and those that are questionable. That type of editorial service would obviously incense those new-media types who demand "who are you to decide what's accurate?"

The rise of Fox News has created its own divisive role as it relates to what politically disagreeing individuals view as "facts."

Thus the emergence of conversations that refer to what "your news media" says vs. what "my media" says in terms of delivering all the facts or in how the facts are portrayed.

In summing up the point about accuracy, Scanlon said: "altruistically, the truth is the truth. But realistically, accuracy means verification from multiple sources."

"And as to media accuracy, I feel it is more important than ever, but harder to attain," Scanlon said. "Currently, there seems to be a sense that whatever 'my' truth is makes it 'accurate.'"
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Joe Galloway interviews in Seattle with Vietnam Veterans will help focus on Commemoration

Programs of support for veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq are conscience-manifestations of thanks from a nation. Now there's a growing movement to touch that same national conscience 50 years late to extend a thank you to veterans of the Vietnam War who received a markedly different reception when they returned home. 

The Vietnam War Commemoration, aimed at spurring events and activities in states, cities and towns around the country to recognize Vietnam Veterans and their families for service and sacrifice, has already had one high-visibility event in this state.  

old galloway
Joe Galloway 

But additional local visibility will likely lie ahead as a week-long series of interviews with veterans of the Vietnam War, conducted by Joe Galloway, the Vietnam correspondent whose book and the movie it spawned made him likely the best-known war correspondent of recent times, will take place in April in Seattle. Ideally, other Vietnam Veterans events will emerge to attract additional focus to Galloway's visit and the 50thCommemoration.

The high-visibility event already held was a Commemoration tribute on October 9 that attracted more than 2,500 Vietnam veterans from around the Northwest onto the parade field at JBLM for a salute ceremony, massing of the colors and Keynote speech by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.The event, conceived by Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, I-Corps commanding general, was only the second Vietnam War Commemoration event at one of the nation's military bases.

Lanza, saying that as he noticed that Vietnam Era veterans were among those enthusiastically welcoming soldiers home from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, said he realized of the Vietnam veterans: "they had never had that" welcome-home reception so he helped create a thank you opportunity.

I'm sure I wasn't alone in having no knowledge of this Vietnam War Commemoration, mandated by Congress in 2008 and launched by presidential order in 2012, until the JBLM event, and even then only as curiosity as I went to the Internet to try to find when the 50th anniversary of Vietnam would be.

Then came an email exchange in November with Galloway, a one-time colleague at United Press International, the wire service for which he covered the Vietnam War. I've written a couple of Flynn's Harp columns on him and he's now among those who receive this column and we exchange emails occasionally.

 

Galloway Advised me that he has a role in the Vietnam War 50thAnniversary Commemorative project, serving as a special consultant to the project run out of the office of the Secretary of Defense, doing oral-history interviews with Vietnam veterans.

In connection with the 50th Anniversary Commemorative, Galloway has been doing three-a-day, two-hour interviews with Vietnam veterans from across the services spectrum, noting he has "65 two-hour interviews in the can now, beginning with Colin Powell and working outward."

"So you should come to Seattle and do interviews," I told Galloway, a Texas boy who as a correspondent was decorated for heroism on the battlefield and praised by the late Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf as "the soldiers' reporter" because of his caring and regard for those whose battles he covered.  

So I wrote two columns in November, the first related to the interviews he's doing around the country and the second about the Battle of Ia Drang, made famous by his book "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young," and the movie produced from it, "We Were Soldiers."  

I got the word a week or so ago that Galloway will be here for a week of interviews April 12-18 and he may have with him retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude M. "Mick" Kicklighter, who is charged with overseeing all aspects of the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration, and sometimes travels to a location with Galloway.

While Galloway covered both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was his coverage of Vietnam which draws his continued and weighs most heavily on his shoulders and in his thoughts.

Galloway's interviews in Seattle may include Bruce Crandall, the helicopter pilot whose heroism in repeated flights into the death zone of the Ia Drang battlefield to bring supplies and evacuate the wounded that brought him the Medal of Honor, as well as prominent visibility in the movie made from Galloway's book. Crandall has retired to Kitsap County.

"We don't have a big budget and so we'd need a university or something like that to provide space and assistance to do the interviews," Galloway told me.

I quickly touched base with Pam Pearson, the vice president and general manager of KCPQ-13 for help and she readily agreed to provide whatever studio space and technical assistance he needed through the week.

"First time we've ever had a television station as our facility," Galloway enthused.  

In addition, Gloria Fletcher, president of Sound Publishing, which owns and publishes daily and weekly newspapers across the state - many in areas of heavy military concentration - has agreed to help promote Galloway's visit as well as events that may be related to it, and thus provide visibility for companies that may wish to participate in some manner.

This coming Memorial Day is the opener of what Kicklighter has described as the "most active phase" of the 50th Commemoration, which will run to Veterans Day 2017. and finally conclude on Veterans Day 2025.

The goal now, and one that may be contributed to with the Seattle visit, is development of Commemorative Partners, a program designed for federal, state and local communities, veterans' organizations and other nongovernmental organizations to assist in thanking and honoring Vietnam Veterans and their families.  

Commemorative Partners are encouraged to participate in the Commemoration of the Vietnam War by planning and conducting at least two events or activities during that will recognize the Vietnam Veterans and their families' service, valor, and sacrifice.  

Commemorative Partners must commit to conduct at least two events each year during the commemorative period of 2015 - 2017 that will recognize, thank and honor our Vietnam Veterans and their families.

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