Ariana Pekary was a producer working at MSNBC. She quit on July 24 – in the middle of a global pandemic – because she says she simply couldn’t take it anymore.
Structurally, there is a problem with the way journalism in this country is set up, she says. It prioritizes being profitable over being informative. And Pekary says she simply couldn’t be a part of it any longer.
“July 24th was my last day at MSNBC. I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly but I simply couldn’t stay there anymore. My colleagues are very smart people with good intentions. The problem is the job itself. It forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis,” she wrote in a blog post on her personal site.
She says editorial decisions are made not what is best for the country or the public but on how high the story will “rate.”
“The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings,” she writes.
“It’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because everyone in the commercial broadcast news industry is doing the exact same thing,” she says. “But behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.”
“’We are a cancer and there is no cure,’ a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me. ‘But if you could find a cure, it would change the world,’” Pekary writes.
Pekary makes clear that her complaints are not about ideology – i.e. left vs. right – but rather about the structure of the journalism industry in the country.
“Context and factual data are often considered too cumbersome for the audience…”
“Occasionally, the producers will choose to do a topic or story without regard for how they think it will rate, but that is the exception, not the rule. Due to the simple structure of the industry – the desire to charge more money for commercials, as well as the ratings bonuses that top-tier decision-makers earn – they always relapse into their old profitable programming habits.”
“Again, personally, I don’t think the people need to change. I think the job itself needs to change. There is a better way to do this…” Pekary writes, expressing hope about the future.
“I know we can find a cure. If we can figure how to send a man to the moon, if Alex Trebek can defy the odds with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and if Harry Reid can actually overcome pancreatic cancer (he’s now cancer free), then we can fix this, too.”
She leaves us with a quote from author James Baldwin about the importance about facing problems head on and having honest discussions about how to solve them.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“I know James Baldwin wasn’t thinking about MSNBC when he wrote that line in 1962, but those words spoke loudly to me in the summer of 2020. Unfortunately, many of the same ailments are still at stake today. 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 writes.
You can read Ariana’s blog post in its entirety here.
Photo by Steve Bott