Sunday, November 06, 2005

CLASS NOTES: Thurs., Nov. 3 -- visit of Mark Miller

Notes by Sara Smith and Bill Densmore

Former Berkshire Eagle co-owner Mark Miller visited the class on Thursday,
ostensibly to talk about the influence of advertising on the media. This
was to be in conjunction with the reading of Chapter 4 of Robert
McChesney's book, on hypercommercialization.

As Mark arrived, we were listening to an interview from "Fresh Air" with
George Clooney, producer and co-star of the movie "Good Night, and Good
Luck," about Edward R. Murrow. Mark mentioned that Fred W. Friendly,
portrayed in the film by Clooney, formerly lived in Stockbridge.

Miller suggested two books for reading:

"Scoop," by Evelyn Waugh.
Evelyn Waugh - Author
224 pages | ISBN 0141187492
Penguin Classic

'The funniest novel ever written about journalism ... a romping comedy of
errors' -- The Observer

Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the Daily Beast, has
always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters.
That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a
moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner-party tip from Mrs
Algernon Stitch, he feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to
cover a promising little war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. One of
Waugh's most exuberant comedies, Scoop is a brilliantly irreverent satire
of Fleet Street and its hectic pursuit of hot news.

He also mentioned, "The Powers that Be," by David Halberstam
Paperback: 771 pages
Publisher: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition (October, 2000)
ISBN: 0252069412

Miller told the story of Lillian Marcantil (spelling?) of the Berkshire
Consumer Advocates, about whom the Eagle wrote a profile in the mid-1980s.
Two weeks later the ad director of the newspaper said local car dealers
were planning to reduce their advertising in the paper to "space saver"
contract levels. This went for a period, then the advertising came back.
Miller said his family chose not to write about the incident, and the move
had no influence on the newsroom. Car dealers were saying they didn't
want to be covered in a critical way. When it comes to covering business,
American newsrooms tend to be on a tight leash, so as not to upset
advertisers. Miller is not saying this is right, but that this is just the
way it is.

Advertisers and corporations have enormous clout with coverage. Newspapers
own their own prsses, but not coverage.

On Global Warming (see earlier post), Miller says it is the most uncovered
critical story today; he things the influence of the automobile industry
is a big reason for this.

Miller referenced a Nov. 2, 2005 special report on PBS:

Newspapers are private businesses, their first obligation is to stay in
business and revenue comes almost entirely from advertising. If
newspapers were funded by an endowed trust they might be more likely to
cover business more critically, less afraid to make critical statements
about business, but not much less afraid. But they would still be inclined
to be generally supportive of private enterprise as that's what makes a
community turn. It's a challenge to cover business because information
access is not mandated by law.

With ownership concentration, ad agencies are making corporate-level
deals. The agencies will look at the coverage a paper provide on their
clients' business and may withhold advertising because of it. There is an
insittutional requirement for papers to take a hands-off approach when
dealing with big-business for fear of losing ads. To what extent should
newsrooms be held accountable to the ad department for their stories? At
the Eagle, the accountability was quite informal -- personal relationships
between the editor and advertising and publishing executives.

The media's credibility and legitimacy is now at stake. One fact that
exists now is bloggers. This is freedom of the press in a different form,
without the press. But Miller does not view blogging as journalism. He
says a 100-watt radio station formerly limited to a tiny broadcast area
can now be streamed to the world on the Internet. This bypasses main
stream media.

On the future of journalism, Miller distinguishes between public supported
programs and commercially supported programs.

it may be that to break a story or indulge in "change the world" work,
future journalists will have to do it on their own time, making their
livelihood elsewhere. Miller sees news as something that reaches the
point where it touches the powers that be and they can no longer ignore

-- notes by Sara Smith and Bill Densmore

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