On July 24th, MSNBC producer Ariana Pekary quit her job. She had been considering this move for a number o years and had colleagues tell her to stick it out – but she finally said she had to quit.
Pekary penned an open letter – posted to her website yesterday -announcing her decision and it contains very damning information and a very frightening view of what Americans are fed in their daily news. She said making this move in the middle of a pandemic is a “truly radical move” and she has absolutely no idea what she will do next.
Pekary described her colleagues as “very smart people with good intentions” but notes that the job “forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”
She also stated that even if you do not watch MSNBC that the slanted news and skewed viewpoints presented still affect everyone. All the commercial networks function the same – and no doubt that content seeps into your social media feed, one way or the other, ” she wrote.
Pekary started in public radio and says that may mean she is more sensitive to watch she saw as aproducer for MSNBC – she says she never witnessed decisions on a topic or guest selected based on the ratings they wouldl generate, but rather on the quality of the topic or guest. “The longer I was at MSNBC, the more I saw such choices — it’s practically baked in to the editorial process – and those decisions affect news content every day.”
Likewise, it’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because
But behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.Ariana Pekary
Pekary quoted a successful and insightful TV veteran as saying “We are a cancer and there is no cure, but if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”
“This cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis” and the ratings model ” blocks diversity of thought and content,” she wrote. “The networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings.”
Importantly she noted, “This cancer risks human lives, even in the middle of a pandemic.
Pekary addressed how politicized the news has become, writing, “The primary focus quickly became what Donald Trump was doing (poorly) to address the crisis, rather than the science itself. As new details have become available about antibodies, a vaccine, or how COVID actually spreads, producers still want to focus on the politics. Important facts or studies get buried.” Pekary doe not appear to be a Trump fan, however, she is clear that science and facts are not of import to the news networks.
The most alarming statement in her open letter is that the state of network news risks our democracy.
This cancer risks our democracy, even in the middle of a presidential election. Any discussion about the election usually focuses on Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, a repeat offense from 2016 (Trump smothers out all other coverage). Also important is to ensure citizens can vote by mail this year, but I’ve watched that topic get ignored or “killed” numerous times.Ariana Pekary
“Context and factual data are often considered too cumbersome for the audience.”
Pekary opines that our education system “should really improve the critical thinking skills of Americans.” She notes that the audience is getting their news based on what is “trending” and how well previous items were “rated” – based on economic benefit to the networks not the value of the news. Pekary notes that occasionally a producer will do a story without regard to the ratings, but “this is the exception, not the rule”
Pekary write that a netwrok colleague stated “Our viewers don’t really consider us the news. They come to us for comfort.” She notes this is the frequent rationalization made for not focusing on the content, but rather the economic benefit of choosing one story or guest over another.
Pekary says the people don’t need to change – “the job itself needs to change” and believes that while we are on the brink, we can fix this situation. “Now maybe we can’t really change the inherently broken structure of broadcast news, but I know for certain that it won’t change unless we actually face it, in public, and at least try to change it, she wrote.
Pekary wrote that she is leaving New York and returning to her family and friends in Virginia and to a “community of independent journalists.” Saying this pandemic and the surreal, alienating lockdown” has made her and many others question their lives and what is important in life. Pekary hopes to reach out and engage others who “also may sense that the news is fundamentally flawed” and said she craves a “full and civil discourse.”