CBS’ Jeff Greenfield Provides “Personal Testimony to the Revolution”

By kevin 

Longtime network correspondent and analyst Jeff Greenfield has some thoughts on the state of the network news: “Look at the ads on the evening newscasts. If the FCC didn’t allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise on air, there’d be no ads,” Greenfield told TVNewser, adding, “Tells us something about the age of our audience.”

Greenfield was the keynote speaker at the Harry Chapin Media Awards at the Hard Rock Times Square. With the group WHY, Mediabistro co-sponsored the event, which celebrates the work of journalists who shed light on hunger and poverty.

Greenfield, now CBS News Senior Political Correspondent, should know a thing or two about TV news. He’s been working in it for 30 years, bouncing from CBS to ABC to CNN and back to CBS, and he understands its plight. He began his remarks by joking, “I work for CBS News, so a lot of you probably don’t recognize me. It’s a broadcast network. The signals go out over the air? Nevermind.”

Greenfield’s speech became a sort of treatise on the state of broadcast journalism, informed by his years working in the medium.

“I am of the generation that can provide personal testimony to the revolution that’s taken place,” he told the audience. But even he is unsure of where things are heading, “We know we’re in the middle of something, but we don’t know where it’s going.”

Greenfield says of the old days: “The lack of abundance, the relative cost of finding other stuff, meant that TV news was what you had to watch if you wanted to find out what was going on.” That meant big audiences and big earnings, which could help fund expensive investigative reports. “The very abundance of data that’s brought by cable and satellite and the net means that logistics can’t compel an audience to watch the news anymore,” he said. “They have an infinite number of choices, and there are consequences.”

That’s not to say that Greenfield is a cranky veteran who blames the younger generation’s attention span: “My point is not that ‘these kids today’ don’t appreciate real journalism or that an older generation was nobler…my point is that because there is that access and because traditional models of paying for this stuff are crumbling, we have some questions about how to do the kind of journalism we celebrate tonight. Are we really that confident that if we build it they will come?”

It’s not all grim. In his speech, Greenfield noted packaged programs like “60 Minutes” and “Sunday Morning,” on which he appears regularly, can deliver on content and audiences. And then there’s Web reporting, which has increased in value. As for evening news broadcasts, Greenfield told TVNewser that he has some hope at the moment, but that, “20 years from now, I don’t know.”

Greenfield concluded his remarks by saying: “I am hopeful enough to think that generations from now, or the heirs to tonight’s winners will be able to be recognized for the heroic work we’re honoring tonight and somewhere — thanks to a live feed on a cell phone or a PDA or a poster — from my nursing home I will be cheering them on.”