Kyle Weidie writes a weekly column on the local media every week. You can view past columns here.
When Ivan Carter left covering the Washington Wizards beat for the Washington Post to host his own show on Comcast SportsNet, most figured he was eschewing the archaic chains of print media and heading toward the greener pastures of television and the new media reach of Comcast Washington.
But did you know that Carter was also casting aside the journalism profession to become an entertainer? Maybe.
As the host of a television, Washington Post Live, Carter interviews local and national celebrities, usually of a sporting nature, and hosts round-table discussions, among other activities, which aim to keep tabs on the latest stories, trends and topics affecting the local D.C. sporting landscape. At times, he covers issues on a larger scale. Carter is in his position because he is a good host and a good face for the cameras. He is now a television personality.
One national scale issue which Carter recently discussed on his show is the 2010 NBA Finals, and a good guest interviewee for such a topic would be someone like TNT's Kenny Smith. Thus, Carter hosted Smith on Washington Post Live last Wednesday. Let's watch (Note: prior to the clip below, Carter interviewed Smith about the NBA Finals and immediately after, the two discussed the upcoming NBA Draft, specifically pertaining to John Wall and the Wizards.):
(Also worth noting: Smith paraded his sponsorship of Taco Bell in an interview with Trey Kerby of Yahoo's 'Ball Don't Lie' as well.)
Makes you hungry for Taco Bell, right? Or at least you might be envisioning the multiple bells pictured (between the logo on Kenny's shirt and the television monitor over his shoulder) ringing together to magically produce a burrito and some cinnamon twists in your lap. What you saw was essentially a commercial for Taco Bell ... oh, and a 'tongue-and-cheek' campaign to bring back the $2 bill.
I described the scene to Dr. John Watson, an associate professor of communication law and journalism ethics at the American University School of Communication, and asked him how sponsorship of a product within a body of work -- and the involved ethics -- varies between written word media (print or online journalism) and television personality media.
Because if anyone from Mike Wise to myself suddenly dropped a paragraph about Taco Bell in the midst of chronicling the anticipated sports patriarchy of Ted Leonsis, or if in a locker room interview video, Ike Austin suddenly started waxing poetic about Dunkin' Donuts and I said, "You're damn right, they have the best coffee in the world too!," it would be frowned upon as a sponsorship interfering with or compromising the credibility of the work.
"The pivotal issue is, was he functioning as a journalist or was he functioning as an entertainer?," Watson rhetorically asked in a telephone interview on Monday afternoon. "The ethics of journalism are clear, but if he's merely an entertainer, then the ethics don't really touch that issue at all because that's permissible for an entertainer to talk of his or her sponsors and talk up the sponsors of his or her guests."
"For example, if you watch Jay Leno or David Letterman, whenever some actor is pushing a movie, they come onto those shows, and Letterman and Leno will show clips, they'll talk about the movie and the talk is virtually always positive in promoting the movie."
"But because they're not journalists, it's not an ethical problem. That's why the pivotal issue is, was this guy, this sports personality who was hosting or moderating the program, is he a journalist? If he is a journalist, then the described behavior unethical," he concluded.
Okay, Carter is entertaining, but sometimes he'll report the facts of recent news too ... and his profile on the Comcast website lists him as an "Anchor/Reporter."
When asked about balancing the two roles, Carter responded via e-mail, "Yeah, television is a different animal pretty much. A lot of times we'll do those types of interviews knowing that they are promoting something. Newspapers for obvious journalistic reasons, do not do that. However, I still think very much like I did when I was a newspaper guy. Now, a serious news show like 60 Minutes operates the way papers do. They wouldn't pay a guest or promote some product for a guest. "Entertainment" news is a different animal. It's still possible to wear both hats as you say but the viewer should clearly see the promotional aspect."
I asked Watson if people are allowed to walk the lines between reporting actual stories versus being an entertainer as a television host. I imagine switching between reporting on a game, to being an opinion columnist, to being a radio or podcast host can be like treading on blurred lines.
"This is where it becomes a problem for academic ethicist like myself," Watson said. "I used to think Matt Lauer, on the Today Show, I used to think he was supposed to be a journalist. But apparently he's not. That's why a lot of what he does, doesn't really have to follow the code of ethics. Apparently, that show is primarily an entertainment show that has some news and journalism in it. So it's really a tough call."
Seemingly, the conclusion is that Carter is no longer a journalist, in the traditional sense, but rather is a media entertainer along the lines of a Lauer or a Jon Stewart.
Upon further reviewing the actual clip, Watson reiterated his points and gave his conclusion.
"Journalists ethically cannot be in the business of advertising products or services while they are practicing journalism. This sportscaster did not appear to be practicing journalism at the moment, but it was an entertaining piece. Some sportscasters do journalism, others do not. Some try to switch back and forth, but journalists don't do that. Everyone who provides information -- even accurate information -- is not a journalist."
And there you have it. With a media market that's becoming more saturated, thanks to bloggers (but then again, losing some outlets such as the Washington Times sports section as well), and thus, the battle for sponsorship dollars increasing, you'll see more members of the media, such as Carter, switching between hats in order to be the salesman out of necessity, but also the personality audiences can trust to bring them the information they desire.
In other words ... keep the entertainment coming, Ivan.