PBS’s Smith says war record, frivolity soften media edge

Terrence Smith, a senior producer and correspondent at PBS's "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" spoke about positive and negative approaches the media employed in the 2004 presidential election during the 2004 Lucius W. Nieman Symposium Wednesday.

Smith, who was introduced by Lucius Nieman professor of journalism Philip Seib, addressed his concerns regarding some trends threatening to undercut the credibility of the American media.

He said many of this year's exit polls were skewed because they weighed women, minorities and Democrats too much.

The media decided to hold off on reporting these numbers and "resisted to shoot themselves in the foot," Smith said.

Smith said he thought reporting from Iraq and during the presidential campaign was good but disapproved of how much time was spent on both candidates' war records after advertisments from the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aired.

He also touched upon the three trends that could adversely affect the media's future.

The relentless bottom line and conglomerate pressure on the media to make more money results in cost-cuts and increases in "news packaging organizations" instead of news-gathering organizations, Smith said.

Lines between entertainment and news are blurred and result in "shouting matches where journalists play pundits" and "decibels substitute decimals," according to Smith.

The speaker noted the third trend as increasing frivolity in news.

He said when candidates break appointments with legitimate news interviewers and gravitate toward entertainers like Jon Stewart and Dr. Phil, something is wrong.

A short question-and-answer session followed Smith's speech.

To answer one question from the audience, Smith said the Democratic Party needs to establish its identity before focusing on a future candidate and the media should wait for that to happen before reporting on it.

Barbara Hussin, a member of the League of Women Voters and a "NewsHour" fan, listened to Smith's speech.

"He's an excellent interviewer, thoughtful and relatively balanced," Hussin said. "I thought his concerns about the future of the media — the trivialization and the focus on entertainment — that was very good, thoughtful."

Alexander Ponjavic, a College of Communication senior who attended the luncheon, was also positive.

"He brought up some very valid points," he said.

Smith discussed several media issues but was not as comprehensive as the previous two panels at the symposium, according to Katherine Basso, a College of Communication junior.