Major News Outlets Rocked by Internal Whistleblowing Unrest

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In the rapidly evolving world of media, turmoil is rippling through the ranks of major news outlets such as NBC News, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. This form of ‘internal whistleblowing’ arises as these fiercely questioning journalists, known for holding power accountable, direct their professional scrutiny towards their own organizations. Influenced by generational shifts, views towards activism, and the very nature of their jobs, it is expected that such whistleblower incidents will continue to unsettle the media industry.

Over the course of recent weeks, notable incidents have shaken these news organizations. NBC News flipped on the decision to appoint Ronna McDaniel, the former Republican National Committee chief, as a political contributor. This reversal came after renowned NBC personalities opposed the move. An NPR editor found himself suspended before resigning, due to his criticism of NPR’s acceptance of diverse perspectives and the reaction to its Gaza coverage. The New York Times also saw an internal investigation arising from its handling of the Gaza situation.

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It’s hardly surprising as journalism naturally draws those who put a premium on truth and defy authority, according to Tom Rosenstiel, professor at the University of Maryland and a co-author of “The Elements of Journalism”. The question asked by newsrooms around the country, as crisply articulated by Kate O’Brien, president of news at the E.W. Scripps Co., is “How do we keep power accountable?”

This mindset was displayed when Chuck Todd, known for pressing politicians on “Meet the Press,” publicly disagreed with his own organization regarding the Ronna McDaniel issue. He was supported by many other colleagues from MSNBC, leading to an unprecedented on-air protest. On a similar note, Uri Berliner, an NPR editor, publicized his criticisms regarding what he perceived as NPR’s liberal bias. Although many within NPR disagreed, he morphed into a hero amongst conservatives sharing his viewpoint.

The media industry is no stranger to impactful internal upheavals. Especially since the tragic death of George Floyd in 2020, media groups nationwide have been forced to reflect on their coverage of racial issues, spurred on by their own staff seeking transparency. This same staff, often young journalists questioning traditional objectivity and expressing their beliefs, also prompted a conversation about the lack of diversity in the newsroom.

In the current era of unfamiliar, remote corporate ownership, journalists are increasingly venting their concerns in public, comments Joel Kaplan, a former Chicago Tribune reporter now lecturing at Syracuse University. Young journalists, in particular, are challenging traditional silence and neutrality, feeling entitled to voice their beliefs and champion causes.

These shifts have sparked debates, and even rifts, amongst media professionals discussing the Trump administration coverage and other topics. “I’m not interested in covering conservatives because they are not interested in the truth,” voiced some, as mentioned by Rosenstiel.

Former Washington Post editor Marty Baron, however, has expressed distress over these trends. His disillusionment with the media stems from social media conflicts over expression of opinion with younger staff members, leading to his retirement.

Concerns over the commitment to unbiased reporting, journalistic rigor and silencing of marginalized voices came to the forefront mostly with the New York Times. The editor of the editorial page resigned following staff protests against an opinion piece related to Floyd by Sen. Tom Cotton. Staff also voiced severe criticism of the newspaper’s gender issues coverage.

In light of a controversy involving Gaza coverage, the Times’ executives lost patience leading to an internal investigation into leaked content intended for an unreleased podcast. The management saw this as a breach of trust, mostly involving drafts that never made public appearances.

Joe Kahn, Times executive editor, noted that “Reporters, editors, and producers need to strengthen the story, not become the story.” Despite this, curiosity about the media itself and how they operate has heightened, a fact Rosenstiel observes. It’s clear that the propensity for internal whistleblowing in the media industry is unlikely to wane anytime soon. As Rosenstiel point out, “newsrooms are full of people who are often disgruntled.”