Cramer Of CNNI Asks NewsXchange's Conference Participants "Did Our World
Really Change After Sep. 11?
and entertaining, Cramer asked the question "Did our world really change after
September 11?" The following is a transcript of his address.
of us need to change the way we thinků If we don't we are going to dieand
none of our audiences are going to be at the graveside to mourn us."
Good morning and thank you
Mr. Chairman for that extremely generous introduction.
I'd like to talk today
about the state of news broadcasting. The state of our profession. And the challenge
for me is to get through this without talking about news as content
Or return on investment.
Or profit margins.
Or even value for money.
Not because none of that is important
(I personally believe that a profitable news business is a healthy news business)
But because all of us
here have different imperatives which drive our news operations
And also because an over
obsession on news as a business might obscure some of issues we need to talk about
over the next day or so, might constrain our thinking.
There is a prevailing
school of thought that suggests that the world changed for ever after the hideous
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th last year, that
the world of news broadcasting somehow underwent a seismic shift - never to be
the same again. I'd like to talk about that this morning.
And we need to ask ourselves
some other tough questions here this week.
To quote the CBS anchor
Dan Rather, did "patriotism run amok" in the United States media in the weeks
and months after September 11th?
Have parts of the media
forgotten their role in society-not just in the states but elsewhere in the world
as well? In the countries you all come from.
Have we all become so
driven by ratings-by demographics-by news programs that are daily triumphs of
form over content, by what pops the viewers corks-what moves the needle-that we
have lost something really precious along the way?
Not our minds-even worse:
our civic duty, our public service responsibilities, our remit as educators.
Have we lost our esteem
somewhere in this process? Worse still, have we lost our souls?
And here are some other
questions we need to analyze, debate, argue-even scream about-this week.
As we proceed towards
what appears to be an inevitable military action in Iraq, what are we-and what
are you in your programs-doing about adequately representing all viewpoints on
And I don't just mean
some of the powerful lobbies that are around at the moment.
I mean are you seeking
out diverse viewpoints? Unpopular viewpoints?
Because that's certainly
Meantime have we fallen
victim to the government spin-even propaganda-from all sides?
Do we passively broadcast
the routine briefings and statements from Iraq, Britain, America, the Gulf States-transmit
them because they are there, and easy to get?
Have we become mere "microphone
stands" for the politicians? Forgotten our ability to edit, interpret, question,
Some other questions for
What are you doing-in
your newsroom, on a daily basis-to challenge pressure, spin, secrecy - occasionally
creeping censorship - around the world?
Do you shrug your shoulders?
Tell yourself it's all out of your control?
And devote your shrinking
resources to those easy-to-get stories. Those lifestyle trends. That served-up-on-a-plate
press conference. That handy press release.
Today's lottery winner.
This week's exciting new movie release. A profile of the latest sad candidate
in your countries version of the Survivor or Big Brother TV show.
All this is stuff-meaningless
garbage-you didn't join this profession to cover.
But hey, it's easier,
isn't it? Much less likely to get a complaint. No pressure, no stress.
On another note: maybe
colleagues here from Italy would like to talk about the latest controversy over
the removal of Enzo Biagi from the airwaves-apparently after pressure that he
was using his primetime news show as a vehicle against the government.
And there will be other
examples we can talk about.
Maybe about the employees
at Canal Plus in France who took over the studios to protest over one of their
bosses being sacked. Broke into programs to give them a free platform.
Was that an appropriate
use of their position?
Let's get to the uncomfortable
pressure that hits us in this profession. If we can't talk about it here then
we can't talk about it anywhere.
And I'd like us to get
really down and dirty when it comes to budgetary pressures you may be facing.
(This part of the conference
may, of course, be of no interest to colleagues from the BBC-now far and away
the world's richest broadcaster-they're thinking of buying out AOL, Disney, and
Vivendi, you know!! Hey-good luck to them. We are all very envious.)
Though spare a thought
for colleagues from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation whose annual license
fee is one ninth of the BBC's for a population only one third the size and 32
times bigger geographically.
(I will be testing you
on that statistic later so make a note of it!!!!!!!)
How are we going to continue
to cover the world under our ongoing budgetary strain?
Have we arrived at that
ridiculous positionthat crossroadswhere technology has made the world
smaller but we simply can't afford to cover it?
What can we do to help
Because sure as hell none
of us can do it by ourselves any longer.
We need to share information
here this week about how we can leverage what we have to do to ensure that we
continue to cover the world comprehensively.
Because the stakes have
never been higher.
Relying on agencies-however
good-to do our newsgathering for us is not what our audiences expect of us.
Its not, I submit, why
we entered this profession in the first place. It's an abdication of our journalistic
responsibilities. And it doesn't have to be that way.
bureaus, lightweight editing and cameras, videophones, and satellite telephones.
We have a new array of firepower at our disposal.
Covering the world doesn't
- and shouldn't - just be for the big boys and girls to handle.
Consider the recent exclusive
by CNN's Nic Robertson when he acquired Bin Ladin's personal video collection.
A highly multi skilled
TV correspondent who started life as a satellite engineer.
If Nic couldn't shoot,
edit, engineer, and report he couldn't possibly have picked up and smuggled that
remarkable piece of TV journalism out of Afghanistan. And he is just one example
of the new breed of broadcaster.
All of us need to change
the way we think. Change the way we practice our craft. And we need to keep changing
all the time.
If we don't we are going
to die-and none of our audiences are going to be at the graveside to mourn us.
I asked at the start if
our world had really changed forever on September 11th last year.
If the worst terrorist
outrage ever committed against the world's most powerful nation-a dagger in the
heart of all that it stood for-would somehow bring about a paradigm shift in our
If it brought new meaning
to our lives-a new dignity, seriousness, even a renewed mission to the craft we
Or whether within a few
months we would drift back into our trivial, wicked old ways of domestic focus.
I think the jury is probably
still out on this one. Dan Rather says the US broadcast media is better now than
it was on September 10th but not as good as it was on September 12th and he is
Though I have seen real
signs this past year that news broadcasters-CNN among them - have refocused on
our passion to cover the world.
That reaching past the
obvious to find the significant-and then trying to make the significant interesting
and understandable-has really been driving us this past year.
You can make up your own
minds up about what's happened in your organization. We should share this with
I've observed something
else this year-in print and at conferences like this.
That some of us believe
we have a god-given right to criticize-even ridicule-the work that colleagues
back in the states have been doing since September 11th. Take a pop at those media
colleagues who chose to wrap themselves in the flag as they worked.
That was their right-they're
entitled to their views whatever others may think. Maybe it was misplaced patriotism.
Maybe they forgot their
Either way it was their
Sometimes, you know, I
think we all have very short memories.
About our own personal
and professional conflicts when our respective nations are under threat. In Spain,
in Britain, in Ireland, Turkey, Italy.
I for one remember the
passionate and angry debate in Britain during the worst of the troubles in Northern
Or during the Falklands
Whether-to quote an unfortunate
BBC manager-a British widow was more important than one from Argentina. And how
we deliberated on that one.
How during the Gulf War
of 1991 many of us tried to strike the balance between our duty to inform and
our desire to save the lives of those in the armed forces who were fighting in
the field on our behalf.
And take it from me-
You have to live in America
to understand this dilemma. The feelings by many that they are under attack-they
are in the middle of a war.
No journalists that I
know have the answers all the time.
It's a work in progress
for all of us.
I don't believe there
are any absolute views.
And I think it's dangerous we think there are.
Also this past year most
of us have also been tested by what's happening in Israel.
Battered and bruised on
a daily basis by the sophisticated lobby groups which support each side in that
bloody and complicated conflict.
How do you define a terrorist
or terrorism? And does that definition-once you've struggled with it-apply elsewhere
in the world.
There is no textbook to
help us here. No broadcast news mantra which we all subscribe to.
This is an evolving debate
with evolving issues and judgments.
We should all be happy
to hear from anyone here this week who has all the answers.
Equally we should hear
from those who have the answers to how we protect our staff who are putting themselves
in harm's way on our behalf.
All of you know what an
appalling year it has been for the front line news gatherers. More colleagues
killed-murdered-while doing their job than ever before. More killed in Afghanistan
in a single week-eight-than members of the US armed forces have died in action
And if all that wasn't
sickening enough we then had the horror of the Wall Street Journal's Danny Pearl,
kidnapped in Pakistan.
Kidnapped, tortured, mutilated
and murdered-and all on camera.
And then again-a week
or so ago-the death of Roddy Scott from Frontline in Chechnya. Those people responsible
for those newspaper reports suggesting that he was foolhardy to be there should
be ashamed of themselves. Their views undermine his courage.
Like it or not we are
now legitimate targets around the world. Very few look upon us any more as some
sacred profession not to be harmed.
Most of the time we represent
the enemy-agents of western governments. Spies for a type of society that many
loathe and despise. Government lackeys.
Or we are just easy targets
for robbery and kidnap and murder.
So those among us who
are managers and bosses have a new responsibility. To ensure that we don't send
our staff into hostile areas without proper guidance, training, and protection
against what they might encounter.
Indulge me here. Raise
your arms if your organization has any specific safety guidelines or formal training
for your staff before they go into a war zone.
Please-hands up if you
And who among us here
has specific counseling and debriefing for their staff when they get back from
Hands up again.
It ain't impressive is
For the past few years
some organizations like the BBC and CNN, Reuters, ITN, AP, Australian Broadcasting-and
some others-have been trying to ensure that this news industry takes its responsibilities
to its staff seriously.
It's been a very long
haul-and we have a very long way to go.
I hope we find time to
talk about that this week.
Given that the next session
is a hypothetical about the war on terror it couldn't be a more pertinent subject
for us all.
By the way, for me it's
All broadcast news managers
have a moral, an ethical, and probably a legal responsibility to ensure that we
do not-we never-send our staff or the freelances working for us into a hostile
area without proper training and proper equipment.
And I don't want to hear
excuses that organizations can't afford the cost of all this.
If they can't, get out
of the business and hand it over to those with more responsibility. Those who
care about the folk who work for us.
I've mentioned some of
the key issues I think we need to talk about here. And you will have others.
This is a profession that
has an incredible ability to examine its own navels-and then continue to do what
we always did.
To change nothing.
To sit and whine and grumble
that it's all out of our control.
So here's a challenge.
I'm looking forward to
something quite different here in Ljubljana. At the end of one of the most testing
years I think the profession has ever endured.
We need an honest and
passionate debate among some of the finest broadcast journalists there are in
I for one would like us
to leave here feeling reinvigorated and with a renewed commitment to the precious
craft that we have chosen.
There's absolutely nothing
special about us as individuals-but there is something really special about what
And our audiences-wherever
we find them-expect very special things from us. Now more than ever.
We can all make a difference.