Jim Lehrer told us a couple of weeks ago that, having "thought for awhile that journalism was going to hell in a handbasket, I'm feeling better about things." We wish we could have been as sanguine last week after learning of a deal made by at least one station in Indianapolis, where it appeared to be going to hell in a formula-one racing car.
Organizers of a Grand Prix race there refused to provide coverage credentials to TV stations unless they agreed to run a preproduced highlight package in their sportscast and to turn all of their own race footage over to the organizers within a week after the race was run (see Station Break, page 22). With commendable forthrightness, Kevin Nunn, news director at Tribune-owned wxin, said the deal was approved by corporate attorneys, but that "as a news guy," he was bothered by the agreement. "This is the first time I've ever agreed to give over raw tape."
We're bothered too. As a competitor in the market who didn't buy the deal pointed out, journalists have gone to jail to protect editorial control of their footage and their newscasts. Just last week, RTNDA re-released its ethics manual, where it explicitly says that news judgment should be the sole determinant of news coverage. One defense being offered was that it was sports, not news. If sports is going to operate under a different set of rules from other segments of a newscast, viewers ought to be informed. Perhaps with a disclaimer that says, "The following report, while part of a newscast, is not considered real news and may or may not constitute paid programming." We don't know how many stations signed on to this deal, but the number should have been zero.