Shapes of things.

So there was a big State of the Media report issued earlier this week, by the Committee for Excellence in Journalism. Predictably, the overwhelming conclusion was…well, Howard Kurtz has a way with words, let’s let him sum it up:

Imagine a business that is steadily losing customers, shrinking its work force, cutting back on services and mistrusted by much of the public. That is a snapshot of the news business in 2004.

A-yup. That’s pretty much it. I’ve been thinking about this the last few days, trying to pull together a few thoughts, but I just can’t get excited. It seems futile. Al-Qaeda attacks a western European country and proves it can alter the course of free elections, the U.S. is engaged overseas as never before, and the reaction of American news managers is? Close overseas bureaus. You just think: What’s the point? Forty-seven million Americans without health insurance, almost certainly another major terrorist whacking coming down the pike, and what’s the big issue of the presidential campaign? Gay marriage, of course.

But I rouse myself.

For years, newspapers have been losing readership. Where are all these non-readers getting their local news, information on what their mayor, their city councilmen, their state legislature is up to? Almost certainly from local TV, if they’re interested at all. Now, I work in a small TV market, 103 or so, and I’m here to tell you this: If you’re getting your news from your local newscast, you’re not getting much. When you work for a newspaper, nearly all of which are quietly shrinking their own staffs and newshole, there’s a certain pot/kettle thing going on, but seriously, if your TV stations are entry-level, it’s horrifying. A lawyer I know was embroiled in the midst of a long-running community debate over a hazardous-waste landfill, and a TV reporter came to interview him. She was brand-new in town. The landfill is in New Haven, a small city that butts right up against Fort Wayne. The reporter came in, sat down and said, “Now tell me: Where is New Haven, again?”

For purposes of comparison, this would be like being a Chicago TV reporter unclear on the location of, oh, Evanston.

That’s not to say all TV reporters are fools. There are smart ones out there, quite a few. But they quickly tire of working their asses off for $22,000 a year and move on to larger markets, leaving a vacancy for yet another straight-out-of-college cutie-pie who needs a briefing on the geography of her new beat, and will probably be called upon to offer instant analysis of the school board vote in her stand-up tonight at 11.

Maybe the smart reporter who leaves will end up somewhere like Detroit. She’ll make more money, but be called upon to stick a ruler into a snowdrift on her 11 p.m. stand-up. Her colleague will set up a sting operation, luring filthy-minded adult men to a house to have sex with a “13-year-old girl” the reporter’s been pretending to be in an online chat room. His story will consist of him chasing these men down the street, yelling “Hey, buddy! You want to have sex with children?!?

Are you being served by this? Ask yourself.

Anyway, all this by way of saying today I checked a link on Romenesko. The Columbia Journalism Review was naming stations that ran all or part of the recent phony “news reports” on the new Medicare plan. One was WPTA-TV, Fort Wayne’s own perennial No. 1-rated newscast, with the largest staff of the three network affiliates. “Your home for news.”

No. 8 in the “Eight Major Trends” section of the CEJ report: Those who would manipulate the press and public appear to be gaining leverage over the journalists who cover them.

Now you know.

Posted at 10:22 am in Uncategorized |

3 responses to “Shapes of things.”

  1. alex said on March 17, 2004 at 1:20 pm

    Journalism is no longer the Fourth Estate. It’s the Fifth Column. Stenographic reporting is the “new journalism,” and that’s why so many people still hold the misperception that the purpose of the war in Iraq is to avenge the attacks of 9/11. Imagine how much longer the Viet Nam War might have lasted had the press been this indulgent of the White House’s lies back then.

    372 chars

  2. Connie said on March 17, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    I complained for years about being the one who taught low paid new reporters how Indiana’s property tax system worked and what a frozen levy was. I was trying to make sure they understand what it was they were reporting about my agency’s budget. Shouldn’t the paper provide some training before they stick these new hires on local government reporting?

    354 chars

  3. Victor said on March 23, 2004 at 6:36 am


    Just caught up with your blog. Hope things are well in A2. Will you ever return to Fort Wayne?

    RE: Airing of “false” news reports This is symptomatic of bigger problems that face not only broadcast but all media/journalists. Staffs are short, inexperienced, time is short, demands for local programming are increasing. But where’s the outcry by all media, print included, over the FCC’s recent “knee jerk” reaction to the Janet/Justin stunt. Uncle Sam can now fine any broadcaster $500,000 for saying some they don’t like (they term indecent.) Don’t tell me that doesn’t have a chilling effect. Add to that, mandated “free” air time for political campaigns, mandated improvements (in the millions) for HDTV and Digital programming and commercial “free” broadcasters have to constantly cut staff and salaries in order to afford it all. (Imagine the government mandating what type of press and paper print media would have to use? And don’t throw out that crap about broadcasters using the public airwaves!) Once “free” tv ends and broadcast journalism is no longer affordable, perhaps the government will turn its attention to the print media, which often won’t align itself with broadcasters because they don’t like sharing ad dollars. Eliminating TV Journalism won’t solve that, advertisers will still flock to sponsor “entertainment” programming. Isn’t it about time print and broadcast journalists start fighting against things like “decency fines,” Hipaa restrictions etc. They’re hurting all journalists, and open the door to the type of PR hype perpetrated in the Medicare case…and not much different than the so-called “advertorials” that now stuff the insides of newspapers and weeklies like Newsweek.

    Take care…and have a #14 at Zingerman’s for me.


    1796 chars