A newscast no place for fundraising


Mediaology: Brought to you today by Scrinch Industries (Scrooge Inc. and Grinch & Co., precorporate merger), spreading holiday humbuggery since, well, 2008.

All that's missing, some will sneer, is Marley's Ghost haunting Whoville.

Whatever. Time to get my Ebenezer on, with this caveat: Any charge this column is attacking foster children is monumentally moronic.

That said, Dave Courvoisier's "Wednesday's Child" should keep its mini-telethon off major newscasts.

Recently on KLAS-TV, Channel 8's 6 p.m. news, Courvoisier hovered over phone banks manned by members of Adoption Exchange, imploring viewers to pony up cash for kids entangled in the web of the child care system, stemming from his regular "Wednesday's Child" reports.

A newsman asking viewers for money during a newscast.

Substitute Jerry Lewis for Dave Courvoisier, Labor Day for Christmastime and muscular dystrophy for foster kids -- then solicit. Both are acts of generosity and humanitarianism that are ... not journalism.

Lewis need not care. Courvoisier should.

There's no suggestion of misdeeds on anyone's part. But on principle, a sense of journalistic independence is breached when a reporter is so tied to those involved in his stories -- here, agencies both nonprofit (Adoption Exchange) and governmental (Division of Child and Family Services) -- that he's fundraising on-air, during the news.

No one's questioning Courvoisier's admirable altruism, just the forum in which this aspect plays out. And his reportorial zeal toward kids adrift in the foster care system is a tent pole of crusader journalism, exposing societal flaws so the public might be moved to action. But that leap from inspiring viewers to open their hearts to asking viewers to open their wallets hurls reporters off an ethical cliff and into a journalistic abyss.

Courvoisier bounded beyond correspondent to advocate and credibility suffers a serious wound when advocacy, and then solicitation bleed into news. Should negative stories ever surface about either agency, viewers would have cause for skepticism about evenhanded coverage, even if no favoritism exists. Cementing viewer trust is as much about perception as reality.

But KLAS General Manager Emily Neilson sees no conflict between altruism and journalism. "It's something a lot of stations do for nonprofits -- we've done it for the Red Cross after 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina," she says.

"I understand what you're saying and it could be a problem if it were a little closer to the line, but there are specific (causes) that are nonprofits and crucial to the community that we feel it's important to participate in."

Fair enough. Still, this isn't questioning the what or why -- "Wednesday's Child" represents a worthy charity for obvious reasons -- but by scrounging for dollars on the nightly news, invites doubts about the how and where.

Just an observation from Whoville by the Grinch Who Stole This Column.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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