Saturday, March 24, 2007

Howard Kurtz, Ken Kurtz & The Future of News

Ken Kurtz, Howard Kurtz and the Future of News

“I'll be a virgin for you and lay my body down
cause I know more tricks than a rodeo clown

-Julie Brown (from the movie Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful)

Last Sunday was my first exposure to an obnoxious jerk named Glenn Beck. I’ve managed to live 48 years without ever hearing, reading or seeing any of Mr. Beck’s work as a “commentator,” but he recently showed up on one of my favorite television programs, CNN’s Reliable Sources, hosted by Howard Kurtz.

During the interview, Beck said he was not a journalist but more like a “rodeo clown.”

Reliable Sources examines the media and does it well. Beck questioned about some of his outlandish statements. It was also a chance for the network to showcase Beck, who appears on CNN Headline News, an affiliate of CNN.

Kurtz did a decent job questioning Beck, but the segment was an waste of time. Beck was treated too much like a serious journalist and not enough like a self-described “rodeo clown”.

I watch Reliable Sources to learn about journalism. If I want to watch rodeo clowns, I’ll watch the rodeo.

It made me wonder if another Kurtz, Ken Kurtz, would have booked a guest like Beck.

The Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame is naming Ken Kurtz as a member next month. It is an overdue honor for one of Kentucky’s best newsmen.

Ken was the long-time news director at WKYT television in Lexington. Although he has “retired” from journalism for several years, someone forgot to tell Ken. He is still one of the best newshounds in Kentucky and a man who has the inside scoop. His enthusiasm for news-gathering and for life is contagious.

He is a nice guy, but I suspect he was a demanding boss. He frequently sends me criticisms of my column as well as ideas for improvement.

Yet even when expressing disagreement, he is still tolerant of others’ viewpoints and is never personal or mean.

That is what separates him from the Glenn Beck’s of the world. To grab attention, Beck pushes the envelope on how obnoxious he can be.

Being outrageous is a quicker path to fame and glory than serious journalism. Anne Coulter is making more money than the people who win Pulitzer prizes. Beck probably is too.

I wonder if the Ken Kurtz news model can survive.

Ken’s broadcasts were first in the ratings and usually by a wide margin. He built his broadcasts on local talent, hard news and pleasant on-camera personalities. If you meet the reporters that Ken hired, like Barbara Bailey or Bill Bryant, they are just as nice off air as they appear on air. They are also serious journalists.

I’ve never heard Barb and Bill refer to themselves as rodeo clowns.

A Ken Kurtz news broadcast was a newscast, not an opinion show.

A true television newscast is getting hard to find. CNN Headline News used to be my first choice, but I quit watching it when they started featuring “commentators” like Beck and Nancy Grace.

For the sake of ratings, many stations forgo political coverage and focus on sex, blood and drugs. Because it works, that trend will increase in the future.

I frequently watch WYMT’s newscasts from Hazard on my computer. You can tell that Neil Middleton, the news director, was trained by Ken Kurtz. Neil’s broadcasts have friendly, home-grown reporters who do serious news. There may be a day when Middleton sends his angelic news anchor Danielle Morgan (daughter of a Leslie County preacher) to pose as an undercover street hooker, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I hope it never does.

I know that being edgy sells. My most outrageous columns are the ones people remember, and they are also the ones that get tons of hate mail.

I don’t write to get ratings; I write because I am mad and want politicians to do something.

There is a line between true outrage and being a rodeo clown. I don’t want rodeo clowns in the news business.

I don’t think Howard Kurtz does either. He ought to bring the other Kurtz on his show.

Instead of learning how to be an obnoxious jerk like Beck, we could learn how to be a Hall-of-Famer.

The news business would be better off all around.

Don McNay is Chairman of McNay Settlement Group, where we hope Glenn Beck never comes to visit. You can write to him at or read other things he has written at His award-winning column is syndicated on the CNHI News Service, and he is on the Board of Directors for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Behind the Column

Ken Kurtz. If there is a picture of Ken Kurtz anywhere in the public domain I was unable to find it.

Glenn Beck. If you want to learn about Glenn Beck, you will have to do it on your own. I am not going to help the "rodeo clown" promote himself.

You can find pictures of Glen Kleine. My former journalism professor at Eastern Kentucky University will go into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame on April 10th along with Ken Kurtz and others.

Dr. Kleine and Dr. Libby Fraas taught me what I know about journalism. If you don't like something I write, please copy them on the complaint.

Reliable Sources is one of the best shows on television. It is one of the reasons I worship my Tivo. I rarely catch the show live.

I've wanted to use a Julie Brown song for a long time. I'm glad this opportunity came up. Brown was a star of early MTV and one of the comic geniuses of the 1980's. Medusa: Dare to the Truthful is a dead-on parody of Madonna's movie, Truth or Dare.

also co starred with Geena Davis in the movie, Earth Girls Are Easy. Brown sang the classic song, Because I'm a Blond, I don't have to think.

Don McNay

Author & Syndicated Columnist

Don McNay is an award winning syndicated columnist and author who views life with a rock and roll attitude.

He is the author of The Unbridled World of Ernie Fletcher.

McNay writes a weekly business and social commentary column and a bi-weekly column that focuses on Kentucky politics. All columns intertwine commentary with lyrics from popular songs.

Don's columns appear in the Richmond (Kentucky) Register and syndicated to over 200 cities through the CNHI News Service. He has also written for Trial Magazine, National Underwriter, Claims Magazine, Probe, Trial Diplomacy Journal and numerous business and legal publications.

McNay is one of the world's most successful structured settlement consultants for injury victims and lottery winners.

He has been named to the Million Dollar Round Table for 22 consecutive years and to the Top of the Million Dollar Round Table eight times. He has spoken to over 100 legal and financial groups around the United States, Canada and Bermuda. He holds several professional designations and was a director of the National Structured Settlement Trade Association from 1998 to 2001.

McNay has appeared on numerous television and talk radio programs and is a frequent guest on Kentucky Educational Television's Comment on Kentucky.

McNay has Master's degrees from Vanderbilt University and the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University and was inducted into the EKU Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1998.

Don has been featured in Forbes Magazine, The Lexington Herald Leader, The Courier Journal, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Registered Representative Magazine and Financial Planning Magazine.

Don McNay

P.O. Box 747, Richmond, Ky. 40476-0747

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