Sometimes, Journalists Do Hit the Mark; But More Digging Is Needed

Wall Street Journal reporter sparks a debate by criticizing another writer, and that’s a ‘bull’s eye’. But the demise of Luis Rukeyser is a sad day for dumbed-down TV.

Editor’s note: William Dunk, an international business consultant, is a frequent contributor to Local Tech Wire. Bull’s Eye. Now and again, some wonderful journalists do their job. They spot a bit of buffoonery and actually have enough get-up-and-go to pin the tail on the donkey.

We’re not talking about so-called “investigative reporters” who, like Joe McCarthy, are liable to spot a varmint under every bush and, often as not, are wrong in what they have to say. We’re just talking about workaday journalists, of balanced-mind and middle-of-the-road views, who almost accidentally bump into a sham in the road in the course of their work and are compelled to call someone to account.

Laura Landro seems to have just done just that in the last couple of weeks. We are not referring to her recent weekend Wall Street Journal column about her Fear of Flying. Rather, it’s her opinion piece on a Seattle reporter who was too cavalier in his reporting on and actions towards a Seattle institution, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Not only is Ms. Landro a very fine health reporter but she has been through cancer herself, apparently at the Hutchinson. And, by the way, she works at a paper where management has enough backbone to support a journalist, no holds barred, when she or he is fighting the good fight. The New York Time’s media chatterbox and others came down on Ms. Landro for her outspoken comments about a member of the scribbler tribe, but the WSJ stood by her.

(See for background.)

H-P Implodes

Some serious business journalists need to examine H-P management, which, as near as we can tell, has hastened the dissolution of Hewlett-Packard with its ill-conceived marriage to COMPAQ. We understand that Red Herring, a tech magazine in San Francisco, did write an open letter to H-P management, even before the misalliance, in order to assail a series of decisions at the Palo Alto headquarters, which may lead to a meteoric crash of the company. H-P, incidentally, is as much at the heart of Silicon Valley as Stanford University, and its possible demise may have Richter-scale effects on Northern California. Financially gutted already by the mindless loss of its big banks and boutique investment banks, the Bay-Area economy is vulnerable; its techno-structure could come apart as well. It is mighty curious that national journalists have not sunk their teeth into this one.

First Koppel, now Rukeyser

We are not as shocked that ABC-Disney is toying with toppling Ted Koppel as much as we are that the Maryland Center for Broadcasting has brought down Luis Rukeyser and Wall $reet Week. Years ago a visionary there, Anne Darlington, created TV’s most successful business program (sort of the only one for a long while) with Rukeyser as pilot. Early on, the Maryland folks eased out Ms. Darlington. Now they have axed Rukeyser, the kingpin of a still very successful, beloved show. They’re after a younger crowd, and Lou seems to have attracted commercially unattractive audiences. They wanted to edge him out by inserting a co-host, and he angrily resigned in late March.

It’s not that the program does not have to be renovated. Obviously the station has not been up to that task for several years, Rukeyser or not. But it is very unfortunate that it will be so dumbed down now, a reasonable assumption since the station has brought in Fortune as equal partner. As it happens, there’s not one publication in the whole Luce empire today (AOL-Time Warner now) that we could accuse of pandering to quality. What we have here is a local, average PBS station – which would be nowhere without Darlington/Rukeyser – that is about to burn out the engine that drove its reputation and growth.

Having said all of the above, the week of March 18-25 was not bad for journalism, most of all because it was a week when a few brave souls from the Fourth Estate took on slovenly journalism and suicidal media management. The press, as you know, is exempt from the normal checks and balances of a pluralistic society. The best we can do now is to hope reporters will begin to police themselves. We can think of more than 100 whose bite is worse than their bark and who are more than up to the challenge.

P.S. With the decline in print and television-network quality, and the subsequent erosion of audiences, custom magazines (usually put out by big companies with a specific marketing purpose) are fast growing in number and circulation. “Custom publishers had $1.5 billion in revenue last year, up from $1 billion in 2000, according to Jim Gabal, co-chairman of the Custom Publishing Council, a trade group.” See the Wall Street Journa

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