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Pedigree Hiring Undermines News Media Credibility

Chelsea Clinton joins list powerful families’ offspring to land choice spots

Former first-daughter Chelsea Clinton will make her journalistic debut tomorrow as special correspondent for NBC’s newsmagazine “RockCenter.”  With that, she joins a select group of sons and daughters of America’s most influential families (see infographic) who landed some of TV’s much-prized news reporting spots.

Pedigree Journalism

Some of these pedigree journalists lack previous experience in the field.  Among them are Clinton and another former first daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, who is also a special correspondent for NBC’s “Today” show.  Clinton previously worked at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and serves on several boards, including for her father’s foundation and the School of the American Ballet, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Bush Hager was a school teacher in Maryland before joining the “Today” show.

While NBC is not the only organization favoring pedigree personalities, this most recent announcement has triggered strong reaction from various media outlets, including Fox News, The Miami Herald, and TV Guide. St.  Petersburg Times media columnist Eric Deggans called NBC the “Nepotism Broadcasting Company,” pointing to the network’s hiring of Meghan McCain, daughter of U.S. Senator John McCain; and Luke Russert, son of the late Tim Russert, host of “Meet the Press.”

In an interview with TV Guide, NBC News President Steve Capus countered comments about Clinton’s lack of experience by saying that “given her vast experiences, it’s as though Chelsea has been preparing for this opportunity her entire life.”

Capus dismissed claims that Clinton’s hiring could keep a qualified journalist from getting a job, arguing, “How in the world can people ignore the 200 people we hired for ‘Rock Center?’”

The NBC News president also stated that Clinton would not be expected to report on political stories but, rather, tell stories for the program’s “Making a Difference Segment.”

Without a doubt, seeing the world from a White House and Air Force One perspective must be a remarkable experience, to use Capus’ term.  However, unless Clinton and Bush Hager report about those experiences in their segments, what topics and what issues can they cover that a qualified journalist could not?

Judging by some of Bush Hager’s soft stories for the “Today” show, which include a Memphis public school that teaches soul, a program to help Alzheimer’s patients, and a feature on a 25-year-old violinist, White House credentials do not appear to be required.

Additionally, Capus’ argument that Clinton’s hiring is not depriving other reporters of an opportunity is ludicrous at best.  It is also offensive to the qualified journalists who did not get the plum job that Ms. Clinton received for no other reason, as reported in The New York Times, that she decided to take on a public role.

If Clinton and Bush Hager had such sincere, burning desires to tell their unique stories, they could have done so by learning the business first and earning their way to the top spots. Instead, they will learn on the job with the help of experienced reporters, editors and producers.

Reputable media organizations ought to adhere to the same democratic principles they pretend to watch out.  Making it easier for offspring of powerful families to attain key positions — even when they have job credential credentials– is undemocratic.

Viewers can understand a media organization grabbing an opportunity to increase its ratings by hiring popular a figure that will generate public curiosity. What is offensive about these pedigree hirings is the flimsy arguments with which the news organizations attempt to justify them.  Their arguments do not work.  Instead, they offend professional journalists who work hard at their careers hoping for a big break. Furthermore, such decisions erode the credibility of traditional news organizations precisely at a time when they are trying to differentiate themselves from new media by pointing to standards of professionalism that are now in question.

Infographic2.doc (2)

Adding a link to related story by the New York Times published Dec. 1, 2014.

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  • admin

    “Critics also pointed to the hiring of Chelsea Clinton, who was a ‘special correspondent,’ as evidence that the show wasn’t up to the challenge of a high-quality newsmagazine,” says The New York Times in today’s story about the demise of NBC’s Rock Center. [http://nyti.ms/108tNaD]
    My point exactly.

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