Briefly, Paul Fahri writing at the Washington Post nails NBC News for its in depth coverage of the Olympics:
"SportsCenter" had a bit of news about the Olympics, but only a bit. …
"Nightly News," by contrast, was all over the Olympics. Man, were they all over them. First, Ann Curry gave the opening "billboards" for the top stories, which included a couple of Olympics-related features. Then, on came the Olympic news like the parade at the Opening Ceremonies. Curry mentioned Bolt, the medal count, and the news that an athlete from Afghanistan had won his country’s first medal ever. … Oh, yeah: Curry managed to squeeze in a story about the Spanish plane crash and a new presidential poll (I don’t think either mentioned the Olympics).
In other words, "Nightly News," which rarely cares about sports, was out-reporting "SportsCenter," the leading sports-news broadcast on TV, about the Olympics. High-fives, NBC News!
But hold on a second.
What I was really witnessing was a little lesson in media economics. The contrasting priorities of "SportsCenter" and NBC tell you loads about how money can drive the TV news agenda.
NBC has a massive investment in the Olympics (parent General Electric shelled out $894 million in rights fees alone), and has made an equally massive commitment to showcasing the Games on "the networks of NBC." Said networks (CNBC, MSNBC, etc.) are devoting a record 3,400 hours, on the air and online, to the Big Show this time around.
But all those decisions were made on the corporate side of NBC, not in the news division. Call me old school, but in the journalism textbooks, it says the news division is supposed to make up its own mind about what to cover without being too mindful of what the bosses in corporate are pushing. In other words, GE’s need for a return on its investment in the Olympics isn’t supposed to be NBC News’ problem.
Yet for the past two weeks, the line between NBC News and NBC’s corporate priorities has seemed awfully blurry. Since the Olympics began, "Nightly News" (emanating live from Beijing) has been larded with the kind of soft-focus/feel-good Olympic stories that are a staple of the soft-focus/feel-good stuff that’s appearing on NBC in primetime.
NBC responded to Fahri with a list of “hard hitting” news stories on China beginning just over a week before the Opening Ceremonies. While Fahri notes NBC’s coverage was still fluff, he misses the point that NBC’s network news was not covering the world but, in the week prior to the Games, priming its audience for China. Since the games started, all news coverage, and even the quasi-news show “Today” as Fahri points out, focuses almost entirely on the Olympics with barely a mention of global events.
It’s worthwhile to note that while, according to Fahri, the Spanair crash received coverage on NBC, on Al Jazeera English my interview was delayed nearly twenty minutes and my segment was squeezed from ten minutes to one because of Spanair and other pressing international news.
Who’s more focused on the news?