Ted Koppel & the Death of Real News

Erin Burnett
Image by S_Mercurier

Today’s oped in the Washington Post by former Nightline Chief Ted Koppel declares the Death of Real News. Prompted by FOX and MSNBC’s clear political views, this piece declares something many have come to know: Our society has lost any resemblance of integrity in its news with very few exceptions. But given who said it — a hard newsman, an elder statesmen of the Golden Era of journalism — it is my feeling that the article will be remembered as a piece that marked a point in time that saw the end of uniform factual journalism across traditional media.

While there are holdouts — PBS, NPR, arguably the New York Times, to some extent the Wall Street Journal, and maybe CNN (at times) — news outlets have lost their soul, their revenue, and real hard journalists. Produced/printed with smaller budgets, younger and less experienced staff, and a hard target towards carving out niche clientele, news outlets opine more than produce facts these days.

“Truth” is not grounded as we have found out over an over again. The noble Fourth Estate has fallen far. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,’ seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts,” said Ted Koppel in his piece.

My Dad was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News when I grew up. I ran the halls of that newsroom as a tween. He is still a journalist today (not with PNI anymore), and I have watched him fight for his livelihood as the ad margins shrank, staff was dropped like confetti at a championship game, and the papers sold their souls.

In many ways this downfall has created the opportunity for micromedia to fill its place, bloggers if you would. The Fifth Estate keeps media accountable to some extent, and in other cases it has replaced journalistic ventures with outlets like the Huffington Post and Mashable. But in general, the new media is much more subjective, and less reliable. Worse, we are seeing less blogging as compared to the past, and in some cases, a disintegration of hard hitting conversations.

We are back to the 19th century when many town citizens had a printing press. Learning how to discern quality information is the most important skill set of 21st century. Otherwise, we will be caught in our various echo chambers, chasing the popular myths espoused by our social networks (on and offline).

The battle is not over. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are planning new electronic pay for content models. It may be time for the tide to turn, or at least become stemmed.

What is clear is the downward spiral of factual journalism has descended to the point of no return. The losses will not be recovered, and new media has reached an unprecedented point of power. We could see another era of factual value, but it won’t feature the powerhouse journalist in its traditional iconic image. Fractured media environments are not likely to consolidate. The real journalists that remain will survive on factual differentiation — an unusual offering in the 21st century media environment.

What do you think about Ted Koppel’s proclamation about the death of real news?


  • By the network perspective, real news is done. Profitability is the main concern of all media and if there is something that needs to be exploited for profit, they take that in a heartbeat over the actual issues in this country.

    I also think some people are undereducated so when people see something on TV, they’ll believe it and take it as it is.

    However, real news in general is not dead and won’t be dead. “Normal” people, like the crowd for the Rally to Restore Sanity, really want to be told as adults and want to know what’s going on. You mention NPR. I used to recruit positions for them and they apply for these positions because they really care about news and there from different news organizations since both PBS and NPR are non-profits. I would also add that NPR’s audiences have improve each year since 2000.

    Overall, people do care about real news, they just to find it or they’re really stubborn.

  • This realized subjectivism of news outlets has created a unique opportunity for PR professionals to establish themselves as supporters/reporters of their cause.

  • I have mixed feelings about what has happened to news. The traditional media was never as objective as it claimed to be, but I do miss the days when reporters left their desks and dug for their own facts instead of repeating someone else’s. I just hope the evolution isn’t quite done yet.

  • To me, the most important line in Koppel’s piece is this:

    “we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we’re now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers.”

    The core of the problem isn’t with the Olbermanns and the O’Reillys – although they play a large role – it instead is with “us”. Meaning the millions who have no interest in reading impartial news to learn about things they may not have an initial interest in. Instead, those millions are more interested in watching shows that go out of their way to confirm their own biases. Nothing new is learned but all too often hatred for the other side is strengthened.

  • Bravo Geoff–I appreciate you articulating much of the same sentiment I have been feeling over the past few years. I’ve basically given up on broadcast news for the very reasons Mr. Koppel points out in his op-ed. I also agree with Jonathan’s point that the root of the problem lies with the consumers who generate the ratings that generate the profits, thus feeding the machine.

    As a former print journalism student, it saddens me to think that the virtues of fact-finding and objectivity are compromised in favor of profit.

  • Pingback:Is the Real News Dead? « PR in Pink

    […] have missed Mr. Koppel’s op-ed that ran on Sunday had it not been for Geoff Livingston who wrote a touching eulogy to journalism on his blog that popped up on my Google Reader. Geoff’s post sparked a feeling of melancholy for […]

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