Thursday, May 13, 2004

A media microcosm

The Boston Globe has an interesting profile of the former anchor of ABC News' World News Tonight Sunday, Carole Simpson, who is now a "news ambassador" for the network. Her new responsibilities mostly include visits to schools where she talks to students about the importance of understanding what's going on in their world.

Here's a pretty telling excerpt from the story:

Simpson, who started her career in 1962 as a journalism instructor and publicist at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, concedes she's also not entirely happy with the state of network news. "It isn't the ABC News it was when I started," she said. "We've moved away from stories about poor people, people who are powerless," she said. "The focus groups have indicated that the public wants medical and business news."

Because many networks are owned by ever-larger corporations -- ABC is part of Disney Corp. -- there is an ever-larger concern about expenses, she said. "When I first got into TV, all you had to be was good. Now, it's a question of `Is it going to take a day to shoot this story or a day and a half?' We have to watch the bottom line."

Since February, Simpson has visited 19 high schools in 11 cities, speaking with 2,000 students. Her assessment of the generation she's meeting?

"This is the most frightened I've been in my 40 years in journalism," she says. "I'm finding that current events and geography are not being offered to kids. How can we have a society that sustains itself if young people aren't informed?"

At West Roxbury High, Simpson is passionate in her message.

"How many of you know who Beyonce is dating?" she asks.

"Jay-Z!" they say in unison.

"What is Michael Jackson charged with?" she persists.

"Child molestation!" they all say.

"What is the controversy over the Medicare prescription bill?"


"Beyonce is not going to get you a job," Simpson chides. "Jay-Z is not going to stop you from being drafted. Everybody in the world knows everything about us. You don't know anything about other countries. What if Canada decided to invade? You all aren't paying attention."
It's not just the kids, either.