'We are a cancer': TV journalist's stunning reason for quitting

·News Editor
·4-min read

A TV journalist for a major US news outlet has quit, writing a heartfelt open letter about the dire state of America’s commercial TV news industry.

MSNBC producer Ariana Pekary doesn’t have another job to go to and doesn’t know what she’ll do, but says she couldn’t stay in a business that has become “a cancer” on a bitterly divided country.

“A year and a half ago, simply quitting my job without knowing my next step sounded pretty radical,” she wrote.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly 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.”

Ariana Pekary said she was overwhelmed, surprised, and heartened by the immense reaction her post received. Source: ArianaPekary/Getty
Ariana Pekary said she was overwhelmed, surprised, and heartened by the immense reaction her post received. Source: ArianaPekary/Getty

In the US TV news networks have used hyper-partisanship in an effort to rouse and inflame the political sensitivities of their audience in order to keep them engaged.

It comes as news organisations have faced rapidly declining advertising revenue, ceding power to tech companies and other online platforms and being forced to draw eyeballs and ratings with considerably fewer resources.

What has arguably been driven by the right-wing and highly partisan Fox News now sees its counterparts in left-leaning CNN and MSNBC.

“Behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done,” Ms Pekary wrote.

“‘We are a cancer and there is no cure,’ a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me.”

Current model ‘blocks diversity of thought and content’

Almost regardless of the issue, consuming either side of the news spectrum in America is like inhabiting two starkly different realities.

“As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis. 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 the ratings,” she wrote.

“This cancer risks human lives, even in the middle of a pandemic.”

She lamented the election coverage that is fixated on Donald Trump’s slurs and misdemeanours rather than important policy matters or the less outrageous Joe Biden.

Survey finds perceptions of media bias growing

Her dramatic and public resignation letter comes as a landmark survey of 20,000 Americans and their attitude to the news media was released overnight.

The report from Gallup and Knight Foundation found a widening gap between what Americans expect from the news media and what they think they are getting. While the public increasingly value the media’s role in a democracy (84 per cent saying it is “critical”), they are losing confidence in the idea of an objective media as perceptions of bias grow.

US citizens feel the media’s role of informing and holding those in power accountable is compromised by increasing bias and believe news organisations actively support the partisan divide, according to the report, American Views 2020: Trust, Media and Democracy.

Graph seen.
Republicans are more concerned about news bias than their liberal counterparts the study found. Source: America Views 2020

More than half (56 per cent) said their own news sources were biased, and seven in 10 said they were concerned about bias in the news others are getting. A relatively small eight per cent – driven largely by conservatives – say distrusted media are trying to ruin the country.

‘Context often considered too cumbersome for audience’

Ms Pekary said while producers do sometimes make story decisions based on fundamental importance to the public, rather than mass or emotional appeal, “context and factual data are often considered too cumbersome for the audience.”

The New York based producer says the state of the commercial media has created a systemic problem that exists industry-wide.

“My concerns are not ideological in nature. My concerns are economic. The flawed structure of the industry affects everyone.”

There was a huge reaction to her public resignation, with Ms Pekary saying she was “overwhelmed by the wide spread reaction to my statement” but continued to lament how it was portrayed by right-wing outlets.

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