Trust remains issue as TV news heads to 2011

Trash their trust? Let’s not.

Ushering 2010 off the stage, TV news-wise, this column focuses on an issue still central to our survival: communicating in good faith with news consumers.

Measured by Gallup last month, the media were middle-of-the-packers among fields Americans ranked on an ethical scale, finishing below mechanics and bankers. (But above car salespeople and Congress!)

Fine work was found locally in 2010, from the I-Team’s coverage of homeowners squaring off against homeowner associations to Darcy Spears on Nevada’s overmedicating foster kids to Sue Manteris’ childhood bullying series. Special reports, though, are the poetry of newscasts, not the prose — the daily mass of crime, accident and political stories – that drums lasting impressions into viewers.

Where credibility — the root of trust — is won or lost.

Where Channel 13 jacked up drama not backed up by reporting on a brawl near Chaparral High School and Lake Mead water levels, and went tabloid nutty over an assault and kidnapping (“an unbelievable story” that “ripped apart” a family) and a child beaten to death (“despicable details!” “shocked by accusations!”).

Where Channel 8 went all National Enquirer on us, nailing Gov. Jim Gibbons for jetting about with a “woman not your wife,” which had zippo to do with legislative budget-slashing, and favored emotion over information by interviewing angry citizens about the Senate’s nixing extension of unemployment benefits, without providing even one reason for the vote.

Where Channel 3 aired a story in its top news block that played like an ad for a local business and anchor Dan Ball sprinkled opinions and suppositions on stories he read. Where Channel 5’s Bob Massi fueled fears, declaring that a courthouse shooting “should scare the hell out of us” and Amy Carabba ambushed a groggy woman for a makeover, shoving a camera at her as she awakened to a city ogling her.

Where every channel cheapened news of the late Gov. Kenny Guinn’s death by piling on mournful adjectives that congealed into an insincere wall of white noise.

Fighting furiously to stand out amid the digital din of multimedia America, overstatement and personality can swamp nuance and neutrality. Yet we forget that despite proclamations of pending death, journalism still matters. So, then, does responsibility and proportion.

Arrogance is a charge justifiably leveled at the media, but our biggest vanity is necessary: News is news because we deem it so. Like the old conundrum: If a tree falls and no one hears, does it make a sound? If an event happens and it’s unreported, does it make an impact?

Concerns over competition and scoops from blogs, tweets and Facebook postings ignore that so much of it is reactive to — and would vanish without – the journalism that news outlets practice. Issues still catch fire via attention from the media, which still tosses those logs on the public bonfire for debate.

Given that still vital role, trust is a concept we can’t afford to incinerate.

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

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