November 14, 2002

PBS President Speaks On U.S., World Media

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Yesterday evening, Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of PBS gave a lecture entitled “Media Consolidation, Convergence, Connection: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Dangerous” at Ithaca College (IC).

Mitchell has had a storied career in journalism. She has worked for all three major broadcast networks, as well as various cable channels as a news reporter, talk-show host, producer and executive. Most recently she served as president of CNN Productions and Time Inc. Television until her move to PBS in March of 2000.

Mitchell came to IC as the seventh speaker in the Park Distinguished Visitors Series. Previous speakers included Ken Burns, documentary film maker, P.J. O’Rourke, author and political satirist and ABC News correspondent and anchor, Carole Simpson.

Mitchell spoke for an hour and a half to a packed hall of journalism undergraduates about the recent trend of media consolidation.

“The power center of America has shifted from the military complex to the media-entertainment centered empire,” she said.

Mitchell suggested the marginalization of “hard” news was prompted by the past decade’s three biggest news stories, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr. and the O.J. Simpson trial.

Her speech focused on the negatives aspects of this shift and the domination of the media by a handful of multi-national conglomerates, such as Disney, Bertelsmann, Newscorp, GE and AOL Time Warner.

“These corporations are the gatekeeper’s for us and the rest of the world, determining what we and they see,” Mitchell said.

She did not only blame the media conglomerates though.

She also commented on this summer’s success of American Idol, pointing out the fact that more people voted online for their favorite pop idol than those who voted in last week’s national elections.

“We didn’t spend the last hundred years fighting for freedom of press and freedom of access to merely sell products, so that we can beam to the entire world an image of a bachelor picking a wife,” Mitchell said.

One of her main complaints against consolidation was that in striving for advertising dollars, the news is increasingly marginalized. She claimed the reason behind the AOL Time Warner merger was the desire of advertisers to “touch consumers 2.5 billion times a month” via AOL Time Warner enterprises.

She also spoke of concerns of the blurring boundaries between content and commercialism. Speaking of an ABC News story on Disney’s hiring practices that was pulled a couple of years ago by Disney executives, she said, “That was an astonishing request that says so much about journalistic integrity.”

She ended her speech by imploring the next generation of journalists to halt the decline of “compelling, relevant, and engaging” news and to “know more, do more and be more.”

“The news should be Joshua’s trumpet, blowing down walls of ignorance and hatred, a wind of moral understanding,” Mitchell said.

The speech was well received by the students who attended.

“I thought it was a very interesting speech, presenting a slightly different view, especially her view on advertising,” said Stephanie Knave, a freshman IC journalism major.

“She gave a good perspective. She’s a huge icon in the TV industry,” IC freshman Kathy Gasperine said.

This speech was the highlight of her three day visit to IC, during which she attended various classes and led three graduate classes entitled: “Global Media in a Wired World: Connecting or Dividing?”, “The 3rd Communication Revolution: User’s Choice,” and “News Media’s Trust Deficit: “Who’s to Blame and What’s the Consequence?”

In the past, Mitchell has taught at the University of Georgia, where she earned her master and bachelor’s degrees in English. She has also taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Harvard University Institute of Politics.

Archived article by Michael Margolis