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Citing the “ratings scheme” and an obsession with Trump, among other things, an MSNBC producer who recently resigned from the network, penned an open letter on her personal website explaining her reasoning.
“July 24th was my last day at MSNBC. I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly but I simply couldn’t stay there anymore,” Ariana Pekary wrote. “My colleagues are very smart people with good intentions. The problem is the job itself. It forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”
Citing her background in public radio, Pekary said she had not encountered decisions being predicated on how a topic or guest would rate before joining the network — she was a member of the MSNBC show “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) August 3, 2020
(Bari Weiss recently resigned as the New York Times op-ed staff editor, penning her own letter about being bullied by her colleagues in an “illiberal environment.”)
“The longer I was at MSNBC, the more I saw such choices — it’s practically baked in to the editorial process – and those decisions affect news content every day,” Pekary said. “Likewise, it’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because everyone in the commercial broadcast news industry is doing the exact same thing.
She said behind closed doors industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.
“‘We are a cancer and there is no cure,’ a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me. ‘But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.'” Pekary wrote.
The former producer said this cancer “stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis.”
“The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings,” she wrote.
In covering the pandemic, Pekary said network producers put politics before science, choosing to focus on Trump — make no mistake, she is not a fan, claiming the president is handling the crisis “poorly.”
“This cancer risks human lives, even in the middle of a pandemic. The primary focus quickly became what Donald Trump was doing (poorly) to address the crisis, rather than the science itself,” Pekary penned. “As new details have become available about antibodies, a vaccine, or how COVID actually spreads, producers still want to focus on the politics. Important facts or studies get buried.”
“This cancer risks our democracy, even in the middle of a presidential election,” she continued. “Any discussion about the election usually focuses on Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, a repeat offense from 2016 (Trump smothers out all other coverage). Also important is to ensure citizens can vote by mail this year, but I’ve watched that topic get ignored or ‘killed’ numerous times.”
Pekary said it would be an exception to the rule for producers to choose to do a topic or story without regard for how they think it will rate.
“Due to the simple structure of the industry – the desire to charge more money for commercials, as well as the ratings bonuses that top-tier decision-makers earn – they always relapse into their old profitable programming habits,” she charged.
Stating that the journalistic process “is largely subjective,” Pekary added, “I’ve even heard producers deny their role as journalists. A very capable senior producer once said: ‘Our viewers don’t really consider us the news. They come to us for comfort.'”
In conclusion, she clarified that her criticism is directed more at the industry than individuals.
“Again, personally, I don’t think the people need to change,” she said. “I think the job itself needs to change. There is a better way to do this.”
In signing off, she declared that she’ll soon be seeking out others who “may sense that the news is fundamentally flawed and is frustrated by it.”
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