Wednesday, July 28, 2004

He's Not a Reporter, but He Plays One on TV

In announcing its “coverage” of the Democratic National Convention, "The Point" claimed it would find the untold stories behind the spectacle and offer viewers a more substantive look at the convention than would be offered by the talking heads on the networks.

This raises a larger issue about “The Point” that deserves at least a brief look. When criticized for being one-sided, Mark Hyman reminds readers that “The Point” is commentary, not factual reporting (as if we needed the reminder), and is labeled as such. Of course, Hyman glosses over the more central criticism of “The Point,” which is not that it is based on opinion (after all, editorializing is a well-respected tradition in journalism), but that it is never made clear to viewers who Mark Hyman is, why he’s editorializing, whether or not he is associated with the local stations on which he appears, etc. This is in keeping with Sinclair’s broader modus operandi, which is to keep viewers in the dark about how much of the content on their local news is in fact prefabricated product cooked up in mammoth studios in Baltimore rather than reporting done by truly local journalists.

But the larger point (no pun intended) is that Hyman tries to have it both ways. A regular feature of “The Point” is its so-called “investigative” forays, in which Hyman travels to Guantanemo Bay, Iraq, and other locations in order to “tell the real stories” that are going unreported. In doing this, Hyman attempts to put the trappings of actual journalism on “The Point,” blurring the distinction between reporting and editorializing. By going “on-scene,” Hyman suggests that he is doing the actual work of reporting and offering his readers objective stories of what’s “really going on.” On the contrary, these locations simply serve as photogenic backdrops, taking the place of the more familiar bluescreen that Hyman usually pontificates in front of.

Hyman rejects out of hand any suggestion that he’s obliged to be evenhanded, since what he does isn’t “reporting.” Yet, he’s eager to lend an air of authority to his pronouncements by playing the role of investigative reporter. In the end, this juxtaposition diminishes both the practices of factual reporting and editorializing which, considered separately, are respected and important activities.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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