WAVE-TV, like everyone else, reported on Monday’s local protest in front of John Yarmuth’s office. It was promoted by the Republican Party. Though we didn’t see him on camera, GM Steve Langford was there as a partipant, and WAVE added a disclaimer to its story, noting Langford’s presence.
I don’t recall a local station executive taking such an activist role in any non-broadcasting-related issue, but then again, Langford makes no bones about his passion for certain topics. And he says he doesn’t hesitate to get involved in issues, even beyond doing the station’s Hot Button editorials.
“I give opinions every week, but my opinion on things doesn’t impact our news coverage,” he said, proceeding to draw a comparison between his policy and the one the C-J’s Arnold Garson wrote about a while back.
“I think it makes us a better station,” he said.
I asked him if attending a political event was different than doing on-air editorials, and Langford said he didn’t see one. He said he’s simply giving opinions, that he leaves coverage of stories up to his news staff. “There’s no journalism in my system,” he said.
But in the same way we question the editorial/news coverage line at the newspaper, it’s hard to imagine that Langford’s opinions don’t have some impact in the newsroom.
Langford is asking us to trust him on this one — in the same way we have to assume a certain level of trust in any media to which we pay attention.
A V.V. reader may have put it best:
Imagine a WAVE reporter trying to cover this issue — while knowing that the news director’s boss feels strongly enough to demonstrate. Might he or she be inclined to downplay or dismiss discourteous tactics? Might an assignment editor be inclined to over-cover the opposition?
It’s one thing for a station manager to publicly opine on a public policy issue. But to assume a physical, activist role is concerning on more than one level.
It creates an appearance — or at least suspicions — of bias. And it complicates the reporter’s obligation to fair and balanced coverage — without fear or favor. It’s hard enough to cover a protest when “the other side” is absent.
This gets even more complicated. Should “full disclosure” require WAVE to remind viewers of Langford’s activism whenever it covers a protest? Should it issue and/or publicize a memo exhorting its news staff to ignore executive positions on public-policy issues?
As a viewer, I prefer a little opinion with my TV news, so I like the fact that Langford and WDRB’s Bill Lamb give viewers a healthy dose of editorializing. Our local station managers are split — Lamb and Langford welcome the microscopic scrutiny that comes with doing them. Rather, they relish it.
WHAS and WLKY withhold the public expression of their opinions to avoid perceptions of newsroom bias, even though WHAS encourages reporters to contribute to blogs which have, in some cases, revealed reporter bias.
Both Lamb and Langford lean to the right in their editorial positions, though both will tell you they consider each issue on its own merits. And keeping an eye on them makes it interesting.