The state of local mediaWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Sunday night I was watching a local TV newscast and two things assaulted my senses like fingernails on a chalkboard:
- A reporter referred to an incident on MON-roe (Monroe) Street. Note to reporter: This is Toledo, and here in T-town, we pronounce it mun-ROE.
- The anchor read a story about another incident during which he interchangeably referred to the location as the city of Sandusky and Sandusky County. Note to anchor: Sandusky is in Erie County, and Fremont is in Sandusky County. I still don’t know where the incident occurred.
It might be that blaming the reporter, or the anchor, is like blaming the two-year old child screaming and fussing next to you in church while the child’s parents do nothing. Who’s at fault here, the two-year old who’s acting like a two-year old, or the parents who aren’t controlling their child? Or maybe it’s unfair to blame the parents, because they just couldn’t afford a babysitter.
Or in the case of local television news, they can’t afford the team to keep such on-air blunders from occurring.
I’m worried about television news. It’s the business I trained for in college and spent a cumulative 15-years working in. I’m afraid that the broadcast news media doesn’t have the horses to do the job we expect of them. I’m not sure how they ever will again.
Every morning I receive four media industry e-newsletters. One in particular, TV Newsday, has a list of headlines you click on, and for the last few months, a growing number of those headlines have been about layoffs at local television stations around the country. It’s like reading the obituaries.
And as Michael Driehorst pointed out in his Toledo Free Press cover story a couple of weeks ago, it’s not just local news operations struggling to pull their weight.
I was reading an article last Monday morning in the New York Times “TV News Winds Down Operations on Iraq War”. The story reports that while we were immersed in the presidential election, the big three networks were not only giving less airtime to the war in Iraq, they were also nearly eliminating their news operations in that country. Today, neither NBC nor ABC nor CBS has a full-time correspondent in Iraq. Not a single one.
Last I checked, we still have a war going on over there, and there are something like 130,000 American troops stationed in that God forsaken country. Tragically, 4200 Americans have died there.
The reason for the journalistic exodus from Iraq is money. Television news is running out of it. We viewers don’t pay monthly subscriptions to watch broadcast news, so the money has to come from advertisers. Nationally, television advertising revenues in 2008 are down 7%, and are projected by BIA Financial Network to plummet 8.5% in 2009. Those aren’t meaningless numbers. Imagine what you’d have to do if your boss told you he was cutting your pay by 15 ½ % over the next two years. You’d sell the boat, cancel the lawn service and your kids would start attending public schools. It wouldn’t be pretty.
And it’s just as ugly if you’re like the majority of Americans who depend on television as their primary source of news. (A Pew Research Study released last week says 70% of Americans continue to cite television as their main source for national and international news.) When the money goes away in television news, so do reporters, photographers, editors, producers and everyone else behind the scenes that make television reporting look so easy, and make thorough, reliable reporting possible.
These drops in television advertising revenue started long before the current recession, so financial recovery for news operations is not on the horizon.
Who are we to trust the way we trusted, say, Walter Cronkite and the seemingly inexhaustible global staff of correspondents behind him?
Some say new Internet news services. Not a bad idea, but you can’t surf the web and make dinner for the family at the same time.
Others say blog sites. I say no. Would you really trust information from someone who identifies themselves only by a nickname like “DisgruntledWolverine32″? If the Internet is the information superhighway, blog sites are a wrong turn if your destination is credibility.
Being well-informed has never been easy. The changing nature of the news media is going to make it a little harder.
E-mail Jim Harpen at email@example.com.