Friendly, who created some of the best moments of...


May 31, 1994

FRED W. Friendly, who created some of the best moments of broadcast journalism during television's Golden Years, is not happy with the direction television news has taken. Here are some excerpts from a conversation with him, taken from the Columbia University Journalism Alumni Journal:

Are news standards declining? "No question. I can sum it up in one statement: Commercial television is making so much money doing its worst that it can't afford to do its best."

Are you talking now about network news or local news?

"It's the local stations that feed the traffic. They put the sensational stuff on the air. The syndicated tabloids, too. They pay the people to get the stories and eventually the networks imitate them. Think of the Tonya Harding story -- a story about an ice skater who cheated. It was everywhere. The networks had it. The [New York] Times had it. Why was that such a big story? And Joey Buttafuoco, who was involved with Amy Fisher. My wife and I were in Chicago, and everybody was watching his coming out party from jail. Why was that a national story? Why does everyone have to carry that story? I don't get it."

Those stories get high ratings.

"I suppose that's it. But I still don't think it's right for a news operation. Some local newscasts are terrible."

How does all this affect international coverage by the networks?

"Well, it cuts into the air time, obviously. The coverage of Bosnia has been good, though. The main problem with international coverage these days is the cutback in overseas correspondents. In the old days, we had such giants as Howard Smith, Charles Collingwood, Winston Burdett -- all stationed abroad, covering a specific beat and understanding what's going on. Now a correspondent is stationed in London and is told to fly to Paris or Rome whenever there's a news break. How well does he know the situation? In the old days, the foreign correspondents were well known. Today I can't name any correspondent."

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