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December 10, 2004

The Big Listen Option for CBS News After Rather

Peter Johnson, who writes about media for USA Today, sent me a note, with a question. With Dan Rather leaving the anchor's desk is there an opportunity for CBS to break away, and do something different? I answered him. There's an opportunity, I said.

From: Peter Johnson, USA Today
Date: Thursday, December 9, 2004

Doing a column for Monday about how Dan Rather’s leaving the CBS Evening News is an opportunity for CBS to think about doing things differently. You know the obvious suspects: having a pair of anchors, a minority, a woman, running the program later, expanding to an hour etc.

But perhaps I’ve missed what YOU think the single biggest thing CBS News should do to make a difference.


To: Peter Johnson
From: Jay Rosen
Date: Thursday, December 9, 2004

Yes, there is one thing they could do. Before they decide who gets the anchor chair, or what happens with CBS News, they could engage in an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, national act of public listening, where the entire divison, CBS News, just listens to Americans state their views about broadcast news. Lots of Americans, lots of views, lots of time to hear about all sides of the problem.

Maybe it’s a tour of America: CBS comes to you. There’s a public forum in every stop on the tour. Listening week. Instead of the Big Eye, symbol of CBS News, the Big Roving Ear. The executives make a pact with the journalists. No fateful decisions until the audience is heard at length— but not just the audience, the public, which includes the ex-audience, and critics.

How would it harm CBS to take a month out for its big public listen? Can you see one? I can find no harm. How hard is it to imagine big benefits for CBS News? There would be many benefits. It might even be transformative. Especially when the denizens of the news division get to arguing about what they heard.

Then, after you come back from your tour into American opinion, you put on the table the future of the CBS Evening News, and the anchor position. But it is a much fuller table once the results from listening week are factored in. The bosses should seriously consider it. The Big Listen option, engaging the entire news division— a reply to being almost fatally disconnected. A way of seizing the opportunity. But they may not be strong enough to pull it off.

After all, the day CBS announces it, some will be saying: they caved! They’re paying their dues for blowing one story! Chances of my scheme happening: Under 10 percent. But it’s the single biggest thing CBS News should do to make a difference. If you do write something about it, Peter, mention some of this.

After Matter: Notes, reaction s & links

True to his word, Peter Johnson of USA Today published a column about CBS News on Dec. 13, with news that was first suggested at (here.) Johnson’s column is: Report on CBS memo likely to be delayed. And he did mention some of what I wrote here.

Don’t miss the latest full-length essay at PressThink. Guest Writer Lisa Stone: Kind of a Drag— A Short History of Spin Alley and the Press. Stone, a journalist, on the life and times of Spin Alley, one of the strangest places ever founded in American politics. It required the cooperation of journalists who were also the intended victims. Linda Wertheimer in 02: “If a clever reinterpretation of an event can wriggle its way into a reporter’s story, why not keep doing it?” Stone has the answer.

At his blog, Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation has some very kind words about this post.

Big news for readers of this blog: Tech columnist, blogger and We the Media author Dan Gillmor is leaving the San Jose Mercury News for a citizen journalism start-up! This is from Silicon Beat, which has more:

Dan will be starting a grass-roots journalism venture, and says he has gotten seed funding. The plan is typical Gillmor. It reflects his appreciation of the need for news to bubble up from the masses. It also allows him to partake of the dream that he has written so much about: The entrepreneur starting something interesting. “I’m jumping off a cliff with the expectation of assembling a hang-glider before I get to the bottom,” he told us this evening, in a phone call from Boston, where he is attending a conference at Harvard. “I figured the worst risk is that I’d be out of work in six months.”

Gillmor also announced it at his weblog. “I hope to pull together something useful that helps enable — and demonstrates — the emerging grassroots journalism that I wrote about in my recent book. Something powerful is happening, it’s in the early stages and I have a chance to help figure this out.” Dan, you have my vote.

Everyone who’s a CBS watcher is awaiting the release (within days, maybe) of the review committee’s report on what some, using a defiantly unoriginal term, call Memo-gate. Matthew Sheffield of emails: “if they want to prove they’ve turned over a new leaf, they ought to include bloggers in their outreach efforts following the release of the report.”

Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy: The CBS Rathergate Report: Distribute a Draft First. ” If ever there were a situation for releasing a draft before releasing the final report, the CBS Rathergate investigation is it.” (Nov. 24)

Public Editor Daniel Okrent urges the New York Times editors to explain things to Times readers (Dec. 12).

We Call It “Journalism.” Bryan Keefer’s inspired rant defending Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Lee Pitts, who got a soldier in Iraq to ask Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld why troops “had to dig through landfills” for scrap in order to armor their vehicles. From CJR Daily, which is evolving well from its first incarnation as Campaign Desk.

Nation writer Eric Alterman with Paul McLeary in his “Think Again” column for the Center for American Progress:

Immediately following the election, and goaded by the resignation of Dan Rather from the “CBS Evening News,” the far-right media has expanded their critique from just a few allegedly liberal news programs and newspapers to the media establishment in general, as Jay Rosen, chair of the Journalism department at NYU recently pointed out.

He’s tallking about this piece: Writer Says Media is Election’s Big Loser: 21 Times.

Bill Moyers, who will retire from TV journalism next week: “We have got to nurture the spirit of independent journalism in this country, or we’ll not save capitalism from its own excesses, and we’ll not save democracy from its own inertia.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at December 10, 2004 1:13 AM