In the wake of the Brian Williams scandal and subsequent suspension from NBC News, I spoke with longtime newspaper reporter and editor, David Lyons, to get his take on the situation and how he currently views the media.
David has been a journalist for more than 40 years including as a writer at The Miami Herald, editor-in-chief at the Daily Business Review and his current position as editor-in-chief at EXECUTIVE South Florida magazine.
Below are my questions and his responses, which have been edited for brevity.
rbb: What is your opinion on the scandal with Brian Williams?
David Lyons: My own personal philosophy is that the reporter should not be part of story. We are hired to collect news and interpret it and give context to audience. Over the years, I’ve been jarred a little bit by celebrity journalism, by people who are out front on TV or suddenly have a personal involvement in the story. I don’t think that serves any news organization well.
From a promotional standpoint, marketing departments of media organizations like to have their people in the forefront for the public to identify with, especially now with social media, where it seems like everyone is a star. If the goal is to be an objective news reporter or editor, sure, there is an obligation to be out there promoting the organization and tell the public what your editorial objectives are, but in terms of injecting yourself into a story – that’s always been a bad idea.
We started to see this become a problem in the late ’90s when the historical novels came about and a lot of magazine were urging their writers to get involved in the story from a first person standpoint, as opposed to referring to third person. Suddenly, it was “I this” and “we that,” and I think that made a lot of people nervous and in some instances the industry paid for it.
rbb: Is it possible for Brian Williams to come back and have a level of credibility?
David Lyons: Does he deserve a second chance? I suppose everyone does, but I think the controlling factor for his future will probably be what the news organization finds between now and then, because if there are other instances then it will be difficult.
rbb: What is your current take on the media industry?
David Lyons: I think things are terribly fractured right now. I think social media has enhanced the ability for the public to have access to more information because there are multiple collection points. It’s not just the newspaper or your local TV or radio station. It’s the man on the street. People can hear stuff. There’s crowdsourcing and a variety of other social media sites. Things are spinning out there at the bat of an eyelash. The problem I see is that unless someone is sharing another full newspaper article, the news comes in bits and bites, and it’s hard to get an overall perspective on what’s happening.
Thanks to David for participating in this interview. We’d love to get your thoughts on Brian Williams. Will we ever see him on NBC News again? How does this scandal affect your beliefs about his other past reporting?
Let us know in the comments below!