End of an era: Chelsea Clinton leaves NBC

There was the retirement of Walter Cronkite from CBS News, the retirement of Tom Brokaw from NBC News … and now this. Can the republic survive? Fittingly, the news broke through that hard-hitting news source, People Magazine:

After not quite three years as a special correspondent for NBC News – and with just a little while until she and husband Marc Mezvinsky are expected to become parents – the former first daughter is now leaving that position, she tells PEOPLE in a statement, “to continue focusing on my work at the Clinton Foundation and as Marc and I look forward to welcoming our first child.”

Having specialized in feel-good stories of “remarkable people and organizations making a profound difference,” Clinton, 34, says the highlights of her job included meeting people like Annette Dove, whose TOPPS program in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, “continues to fill the hunger, education and safety gaps for kids of all ages in her community.”

She also thanks viewers who responded to her stories by helping to fund and expand programs she featured. According to NBC, TOPPS raised $300,000 after Clinton’s report.

That’s also one of the few stories Clinton produced for NBC News over her three-year tenure. As Politico’s Dylan Byers notes, that haul comes to about six months’ salary for Clinton:

Clinton’s departure brings an end to a lucrative three-year run during which she made a handful of feel-good packages for NBC’s “Making a Difference” franchise. Clinton’s annual salary at the network was $600,000, translating to roughly $26,724 for each minute she appeared on air — a sore subject for the many hard-working journalists at NBC who made considerably less. In January, Clinton switched to a month-to-month contract.

Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple cast a critical eye on NBC’s decision:

The posting also references the various feel-good stories that Clinton executed for NBC News, including “people like Carlos ‘Coach Khali’ Sweeney, whose Downtown Boxing Gym offers kids on the east side of Detroit a lifeline through academic tutoring and boxing instruction” and Principal Peggy Candelaria, “whose Homework Diner in Albuquerque helps kids with their homework and also feeds those same kids and their families.”

Those stories were neither sufficiently frequent nor momentous to earn Clinton the respect of her colleagues and the NBC News brain trust. Her standing within the network appeared to suffer a hit when Politico revealed earlier this year that she had been earning annual pay in the range of $600,000 — or nearly $27,000 for each minute of airtime. That was far above the pay level of an average network correspondent, even one with years of experience; Clinton was a rookie in the craft at the time of her first piece for NBC News in 2011.

Media critic and NYU professor Jay Rosen pulled no punches about the Chelsea Clinton era:

It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a media outlet attempting to curry favor with a powerful political family. The younger Clinton had no claim to journalistic experience, and ended up taking in quite a bit of money for very little productivity. What little she did produce was of mediocre quality: even the aforementioned TOPPS story would have been much more compelling in the hands of more experienced and skilled reporters.

One might imagine that the money spent on Clinton’s sparse production could have funded five or ten reporters who could have produced ten or twenty times the output, so in that sense her contract is clearly a bad investment. In the favor-currying sense, though, the worth of the investment won’t be known until a Clinton is back in the White House. The big question will be just how far NBC News will go in protecting that investment between now and the 2016 election.

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