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American Journalism Review
Spring Backward  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   June 1997

Spring Backward   

WMAQ's Carol Marin resigns in protest of the station's hiring of Jerry Springer

By Suzan Revah
Suzan Revah is a former AJR associate editor.     

Television broadcasters are finding it increasingly difficult to decide where to draw the line between news that informs and news that sells these days, but not Carol Marin, coanchor of the nightly newscast at Chicago's NBC affiliate, WMAQ.

When Marin (pronounced "Marine") learned that her station had hired sleazemeister Jerry Springer to do a series of commentaries during the month of May, she walked away from her job in protest, sparking a highly publicized contre-temps over salvaging the credibility of news. "I love that newsroom and the people in it," Marin says, "but I knew that I would not sit on a set and introduce Jerry Springer as part of our news operation."

Springer responded in kind. "It's the arrogance of the people who are on TV who believe they're so important...that they have the right to say who else can be on with them," he was quoted as saying in the Chicago Sun-Times. "What the hell? It's only reading a prompter. I mean, they make it seem like it's journalism."

To Marin, and apparently to Chicago viewers, it is journalism, or at least it is suppposed to be. WMAQ's ill-fated effort to boost ratings during sweeps month actually resulted in a ratings droop, and Springer's debut was met with over 1,400 calls from viewers saying they would no longer watch if Springer remained on the air.

"This really isn't about me or Springer. It all boils down to the credibility of news, and not just television news," Marin says. "[The decision to hire Springer] was in disrespect of our loyal audience and in disrespect of the serious journalism that many in the newsroom have engaged in over the years. The signal it sent was that the decision existed for shock value and ratings potential, but not for maintaining our audience's faith or trust."

Springer, a former mayor of Cincinnati and Emmy award- winning political reporter for that city's WLWT-TV during the 1980s, initially vowed that the controversy wouldn't drive him away from his new assignment. But he soon reversed his field, quitting after only two appearances on WMAQ, one of which had him on the hot seat answering to his personal attacks on Marin. (Springer did not return repeated phone calls.)

Marin, who says the Springer episode is only one part of her longtime dissatisfaction with what she sees as deteriorating news standards at WMAQ, says she has no plans to return to her post now that Springer has been exorcised. Her decision to leave was not about renunciating her profession, she says, but rather about taking a stand against what she calls the "cynical trivialization" of news in general. She is currently considering several offers from other stations.

Meanwhile, broadcast-watchers are hailing her act as one of bravery, but more important as one of necessity. "She has taken a stand where so many million-dollar anchors have not been willing to stand up, when the standards of their TV news organizations have been collapsing around them," says Ed Fouhy, a veteran of the three major networks who is now executive director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. "It's strange that it took something as dramatic as this to [make people] realize that credibility and market success are tied together. You'd think it was so obvious."



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