Alumna and NBC producer discusses journalistic integrity
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11
Tufts alumna Marian Porges (LA ’82), a senior producer at the News Standards and Practices division of NBC News, spoke about journalistic ethics and media coverage of this year’s election at Eaton Hall on Friday.
The event, titled “Election Aftermath: Why Should I Believe What I See on the News?,” was sponsored by the Communications and Media Studies (CMS) Program and focused on how fast−paced modern news media can be threatened by ethical breaches.
CMS Director Julie Dobrow gave opening remarks describing Porges’ career in journalism as a producer for ABC News, a producer for NBC News, the director of NBC News’ Journalism Program and her current position as a senior producer.
“Marian [Porges] is somebody that we were anxious to invite back to campus because she has had a long and really interesting career in television news,” Dobrow said.
Porges, who was one of the four recipients of Tufts’ Eighth Annual P.T. Barnum Awards for Excellence in Entertainment this past year, began the lecture by discussing NBC News Standards and Practices’ focus on maintaining journalistic and ethical standards.
“We want to make sure that we’re bringing to the viewer and the reader, in the case of our websites, the most accurate and fair information that we can,” she said.
An important part of upholding journalistic ethics is maintaining transparency, Porges said.
“If we have someone on the air who has a bias of some sort, we need to be transparent about that,” she said. “It just helps the viewer to understand where these people are coming from.”
Porges also commented on how the social media craze has sped up the process of news reporting and threatened the ability to consistently uphold journalistic standards.
“[Social media is] the only form of communication that we have at NBC News, that anybody has in any news organization, where information isn’t vetted,” she said. “Everything that gets on the air has to be seen by someone from the News Standards area and a lawyer, except for what goes on in the social media world.”
She explained that social media affected NBC’s election coverage, as it is against NBC’s policy to tweet or post any information before it is officially reported and checked. NBC has a group of social media experts monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites to make sure that no one affiliated with NBC posts incorrect information and that no one else posts incorrect information about NBC.
“We did pretty well. We only had two error tweets, and one was actually not by someone in our division,” she said. “It’s so easy for our integrity to be damaged and infiltrated since anyone can just tweet whatever they want.”
According to Porges, NBC set up what it called “Democracy Plaza” outside of its New York City headquarters on Election Day, where there were studios along the ice rink, a map of the United States on the rink to color in states as they were being called and a display where red or blue lights would turn on as electoral numbers went up.
“All of that’s great, that’s fabulous, but we still had an editorial show to put on the air and we had to make sure that we got it all right,” she said.
She described how the broadcast networks and the Associated Press hired people to go to the polls to ask people how they voted. Because of low budgets, they focused their resources on exit polling in swing states, Porges said.
“Knowing that the battleground states were going to be so important, they didn’t go to the states ... they knew would go one way or another,” she said.
Porges also noted issues that NBC has had with the campaigns this year, explaining that campaigns would take portions of what certain NBC reporters said on the air, take the snippet out of context and put it in their political ads.
“We may have someone saying something out of context, and it looks like that person is endorsing the candidate,” she said. “We as journalists have to maintain our objectivity as much as possible.”
She later spoke about the need for budding journalists to learn techniques for using digital platforms if they want to succeed in the media world.
“Technology has helped us cover a whole lot more than we were used to, but on the downside it’s made it such that people don’t have the expertise they used to have,” she said.
Porges then reiterated the importance of integrity and reputation in the media, explaining that NBC would rather release the correct facts than be the first to break news.
“It’s all about reputation, because if your reputation isn’t up there, people aren’t going to believe you, and once our viewers stop believing us, we’ve lost it all,” she said.