For War News, Profs Ask for More Sources

On Sept. 11, television journalism achieved its signature immediacy.

But the day afterward, television presented highly pathos-driven coverage?something it does well, but shouldn?t, according to Nick Burns, a University of Utah assistant professor lecturer in communication.

Burns? name was among several U faculty members? to appear on a petition expressing concern over the news coverage of the attacks.

The petition, directed at communication scholars around the world, garnered 253 signatures in its first three days, said Robert Huesca, an associate professor in Trinity University?s department of communication.

Twenty-five senior producers and vice presidents for news at ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNBC and CNN received letters bearing the signatures. More are still being collected.

?The idea was to call on journalists to draw on the strengths of U.S. journalism’s traditions,? Huesca said. ?In order to have rigorous deliberation, society must be exposed to ideas in opposition to one another.?

The media?s near-exclusive reliance on military and government officials violates this tradition, he said.

According to Burns, the media is ?between a rock and hard place.?

On one hand, reporters must get information from the military and government. But they also have the responsibility to pull from a variety of sources.

However, if they do turn to other sources, they risk alienating the government and military, he said.

Last week, federal officials persuaded television networks to promise not to provide real time coverage of Osama bin Laden?s statements. They also asked newspapers not to publish full texts of bin Laden?s speeches, lest they contain code words for an attack.

It?s unfortunate the government makes news by asking journalists to censor themselves, Burns said.

The petition condemns the ?singular and relentless use of the ?war? metaphor to describe the attack and the potential responses.?

The current climate under which journalists work is somewhat restrictive, the petition acknowledges. Fewer corporations control the news.

?The risk now is that there will be fewer and fewer voices,? Burns said.

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