why ariana left tv news
—James Baldwin, 1962
July 24 was Ariana Pekary’s last day at MSNBC. Here is what she wrote.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I simply couldn’t stay there anymore. 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.
“It’s possible I’m more sensitive to the editorial process. The longer I was at the network the more I saw decisions predicated on how a topic or guest would ‘rate’—it’s practically baked-in to the editorial process. 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.
“But behind closed doors, industry leaders admit the damage that’s being done. ‘We are a cancer and there is no cure,’ a TV veteran said. ‘But if you could find a cure it would change the world.’
“As it is this cancer stokes national division. 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 ratings.
“This cancer risks human lives. The primary focus of the pandemic quickly became what Donald Trump was doing (poorly) to address the crisis, rather than the science itself. As new details have become available about antibodies, a vaccine, or how COVID actually spreads, producers still want to focus on politics. Facts get buried.
“This cancer risks our democracy. Context and factual data are often considered too cumbersome for the audience. There may be some truth to that (our education system really should improve the critical thinking skills of Americans). I’ve 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.’
“Through this pandemic and the surreal, alienating lockdown, I’ve witnessed many people question their lives and what they’re doing with their time on this planet. I reckon I’m one of those people, looking for greater meaning and truth.” ~