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TV Morning Shows in Compassion Competition

(Posted September 28, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

NBC's and ABC's morning shows are channeling their bitter competition into philanthropy for Hurricane Katrina victims.

NBC has turned New York's Rockefeller Plaza home of the "Today" show into "Humanity Plaza," a staging ground to build homes with Habitat for Humanity that will be trucked south for those who lost theirs in flooding.

"Good Morning America" has "adopted" the Pass Christian, Miss., hometown of anchor Robin Roberts, a Katrina-devastated community west of Gulfport, and is sending supplies and help to clear mountains of debris.

"If the competitive spirit leads to making a real difference and to having homes built and roadways cleared and schools started, it's a good thing," said Ben Sherwood, executive producer of "GMA," which is locked in an intense battle for viewers with "Today."

While few can argue the cause's worthiness, the efforts raise questions about the extent broadcast news divisions should get involved in stories they cover.

Volunteers have already built a dozen homes and 97 doghouses outside NBC's midtown Manhattan offices, said Jim Bell, executive producer of "Today." Millions of dollars have been pledged to the effort, NBC said.

Neither network would say how much they have spent.

Celebrities Edie Falco and Steve Carell have joined Katie Couric and Matt Lauer to pound in nails, and Stevie Nicks entertained people at the 24-hour worksite with a concert Wednesday.

A "Today" crew will cover it when installation of the new homes begins Monday.

"There's nothing more important in the wake of images of displaced people than to try to give people their homes back," Bell said. "It seemed like a natural."

Two of Roberts' sisters lost their homes to Katrina, and her mother's home was damaged, Sherwood said. Roberts was on hand Tuesday to help as 55 truckloads of debris were hauled from town.

ABC is working with the Salvation Army and Corporation for National and Community Service on its project. There's already been more than $300,000 worth of contributions made, and the effort will continue for months.

The show's goal is to help individuals and open Pass Christian's school within two weeks.

Bob Steele, a senior journalism ethics faculty member at the Poynter Institute, said that while corporate owners of news organizations are often active in the community, it gets tricky when the journalists themselves are involved.

Viewers may wonder if stories are going uncovered because of the attention paid to these efforts, or whether it affects objectivity, he said.

"No matter how noble the cause may be, it may undermine that unique and essential journalistic role, which is dependent on the principle of independence," Steele said.

Bell said he believed the effort fit into the unique news and entertainment mix of the morning shows. "I think it is our role to get involved and not just sit back and wait for someone else to help," he said.

Sherwood said the issue was discussed among ABC News management. "This feels like a special case and a special instance where action and journalism are consistent shining a light and also doing something, rolling up the sleeves," he said.

CBS' "The Early Show" is, like the network's other news programs, publicizing information about missing people, but has no philanthrophic effort set up.

Source: Yahoo! News

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