And we paid money for this — FCC report “cites lack of local news, but has no ideas to fill the gap”

Four hundred seventy eight pages… that’s what it took to conclude that the state of local news in the digital age is in a serious state o’ crisis, with apologies to O’Casey.

This is the latest from the FCC on the sorry state of local news in the digital age. Not only did the FCC prepare the report at taxpayer expense but additionally paid for a commissioned news piece on paidcontent.org FCC Report Cites Lack Of Local News, But Has No Ideas To Fill The Gap.

The findings are not surprising, “There’s a big gap in local news reporting. There are fewer newspaper reporters covering “essential beats” like courts, schools, local affairs. The number of reporters in key places of government has dropped considerably. In New Jersey, for example, the number of statehouse reportesr (sic) dropped from 35 to 15 between 2003 and 2008. In the same time period, California went from 40 to 29; in Texas from 28 to 18; in Georgia, from 14 to 5.
Daily newspapers cut their editorial spending by $1.6 billion per year from 2006 to 2009; staff has shrunk more than 25 percent since 2006…
The report describes local TV as a kind of news wasteland. The stations are generally pumping up the volume of news while reducing staff, and give short shrift to serious topics like education, health care, and government. The report cites a TV news study by the Annenberg School of Communications that found such hard news topics took up a little over one minute in a 30-minute news broadcast. While coverage of city government withers, crime news proliferates. And the report notes the disturbing trend of “pay-for-play” arrangements, as well as the airing of “video press releases” masquerading as news.
Cable news is thriving on a national level but remains stunted at a local level. Only about 25 to 30 percent of the population can watch a local news show on cable.”

The Annenberg Lear Center study which came out in May 2010 Lear Center Report: sports & weather, crime, fluff dominate L.A. TV news makes a frightening case for the diminishing amount of substantive news and the value placed on important stories by news managers.

Look – it’s no secret that consultants have ruined local news – as well as the lack of commitment from station owners, managers, news directors and others of fiscal ilk. News was never profitable and for the vast majority of the 20th century, news was not profitable. In the late 1980s when it became essential to stations that news make money, all semblance of reality was lost. Now shows that proclaim to be news programs are dominated by traffic and weather – because that’s what consultants say the public cares most about… This is the most ephemeral of all substance… the least consequential… and yet it dominates in terms of new devices, maps and computer animations and a significant commitment of the total time of each news program.

Is it any wonder why so few audience surveys find that audiences treat news programs seriously, or make the evening news appointment television night after night, or where loyalty to a program or presenter was once a staple and is now a mater of convenience or happenstance? We’ve polluted the audience by offering features and soft stories as early as 5 or 7 minutes into the programs…. features which once would have been relegated to the end of the news show as a ‘kicker’ but which now appear earlier and earlier each show in order to give the audience something ‘light’ and ‘entertaining’ and ‘enjoyable’ as opposed to something which the editors felt was necessary and important and consequential.

This isn’t just a situation (problem) with local news. Watch many of the network programs and you can see the same symptoms about story selection and placement – an erosive degredation of what news ought to be presented contrasted with what is presented in the guise of news so that the audience will stay tuned.

We wonder why at a time when audiences say they’ve never been better informed thanks to digital content when in fact it appears that they have never known as little or less about so many stories, in spite of digital technology and delivery.

Posturing, creating messages beyond credulity

Let’s acknowledge the obvious – money is tight and every public entity is facing a do-or-die scramble for standing in the public’s mind share and subsequent approval in funding.

But whatever their message it must be rooted in common sense just as the messenger has an obligation as an orator to make sense, not rely on either spin or hyperbole lest they lose any semblance of credulity. There are examples of strident message-work above-and-beyond-the-pale just about daily — one such absurdity came during the KQED’s Monday radio program “Forum” during a discussion of the need for vital and vibrant public parks.

A guest on the show made the assertion that by funding parks on the “front end” would no doubt diminish the need for public funding of “ERs and jails” on the back-end. His point was to invest in public parks today to diminish public spending on medical care or justice later. I am confident the speaker loves parks and no doubt wants to keep their job, but I think it is a little bit ambitious to represent (with a straight face) that funding of public parks will in any way reduce the need for hospitalizations or prisons.

The point is – of course – say whatever you believe, but in the marketplace of common sense ideas it would help if there was some attention paid to making good sense… rather than just throwing words against a wall hoping some might stick.

The consequence is that it all just sounds like noise. When we wonder why people don’t listen (as much? at all?) any longer I suggest it is because so many times what’s said is silly or beyond the pale of credulity.

Social media offers Palin’s supporters the chance to revise history to suit her remarks

In the aftermath of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin’s gaffe in Boston last week claiming that Paul Revere was on his ride to “warn the British” comes a flurry of edits to Wikipedia’s page Revision history of Paul Revere by presumably Palin supporters who want to edit history to conform more closely to her remarks.
Is this revisionism? Or damage control? Or just plain devotion to the perhaps-yet-to-be-decided-and-declared candidate herself?
What’s just sad is that such efforts to make subtle adjustments to history are hardly transparent. Just look at the date stamps. These all stem from after Mrs. Palin’s remarks. It raises legitimate questions as to motive as well as ethics.
I anticipate that any one who addresses these edits may be labeled as anti-Palin but that’s hardly the point. Crying out allegations and name calling like that smack of McCarthyism and the most treacherous kinds of intimidation. The simple truth here is that after her remarks a great number of edits were attempted. The timing seems more curious than coincidental.

This was a significant if perhaps not coordinated effort to change history but what of smaller edits, less attention grabbing headlines? When a vast majority of students rely more and more on single sources, including specifically Wikipedia, we all need to pay a great deal of care and attention placed on any one or any movement who seeks to make wholesale changes to content. I know that there is such an effort made by Wikipedia. Clearly history was shanghaied and that’s plain wrong.

The Media is behaving as Lame and Lamer

If some one isn’t a bona fide, announced candidate – and says they’re not a candidate – why should any one in the media cover them as if they are any thing but a private citizen?
The Palin tour up the east coast raises serious ethical, moral and sensibility questions. Two very good articles Palin, Trump, pizza – and a debased media in tow and Sarah Palin and the Politics of Winging It raise serious questions about the conduct of the press.

Here’s the simple question – apart from the timing of Ms. Palin’s tour, her ongoing role on FOX News as a paid commentator and critic of the administration and all things Democrat, her rather repetitious allegations and assertions about the ‘lamestream media’ the question remains, why cover her at all?

We don’t cover other media personalitiess the same way – on either side of the political aisle – those darlings are not followed in caravans by eager journalists who seem to believe that if they might miss a stop on Ms. Palin’s tour they will somehow miss the scoop?

Ms. Palin is riding the crest of media attention – surely she does not warrant such attention based on what she says, her view of history, her appreciation of geography. Merely having a passport does not make her a world leader; having a driver’s license or hiring someone who has a bus license does not make her a tour guide.

So I just am left to wonder, when is some one who says they are not a candidate really some one who does not warrant further coverage? When does some one who prefers to lob verbal attacks from the sidelines of a single network find herself squeezed out of the rest of the media simply because she does not deserve greater attention? There is always an argument around the time of political debates over who to include – who has garnered enough public attention – who has a significant enough standing in the polls to deserve inclusion; but that is ALWAYS restricted only to those who want to be candidates. Ms. Palin – at this point – says she does not… she has opted not to join the fray – she has elected to opt out of the process.

To which – I wonder – why does the lamestream media she seems to hate so much feel so compelled to cover her every move, every word and every bite of pizza?

And just because it deserves to be called out again and again, FOX is so eager to be mainstream that their self-representation as the bulwark of the anti-press – every one else is lamestream, not them, is simply disingenuous.

Hail, Hail Trumpmania

The NYT’s piece “Trump Bows Out, but Spotlight Barely Dims” focuses attention on the hoopla surrounding Donald Trump and Trumpmania in the media.

But the most salient question is posed by former Ronald Reagan adviser Stuart Spencer “The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him…. Speaking of the proliferation of news outlets interested in politics, Mr. Spencer, 84 and admittedly fascinated by the new landscape, lamented, “There’s no referee anymore to evaluate what are serious issues and what are serious candidates.”

So who should be the referees? Who has the stature, the clout, the reputation, the gravitas, the following, the audience loyalty and confidence, the trust?

Just posing the question – is the media a paper watchdog? A toy tiger? What role should the media play – apart from monitoring and worse, fostering the noise?

Huckabee from the sidelines

Until this weekend’s unexpected announcement that he would not be running for President former Arkansas Governor and currently Fox News host Mike Huckabee was a leading contender for the 2012 Republic nomination.

But I wonder whether this early decision to bow out of the race was a strategic move to separate himself from the rough and tumble of a divisive and expensive primary campaign and wait until other candidates have destroyed themselves, battered and bruised the party, before a fractured convention proclaims Huckabee their nominee by acclamation?

Will it be easier – simpler – less costly on all levels – for Huckabee to comment from the media sidelines instead of subjecting himself to the political discourse and voter approval?

FOX news – O’Reilly and Hannity in particular – are already harping that the “mainstream media” will be highly partisan in this campaign – AKA, code for liberal and pro Obama. It seems so disingenuous for FOX to proclaim itself a David vs. Goliath… when Rupert Murdoch already owns such a piece of global media it seems insouciant to play the ingenue.

But what of FOX News commentator Huckabee? Will he be impartial… entirely neutral? Or will his comments by partisan, fomenting debate and suggesting how he’d handle an issue differently? Will Fox be his platform, his messenger until a blistering convention brawl results in no clear candidate from within the party and a call for Huckabee to become the standard bearer?

Just wondering aloud… will FOX police their host, or should they in an arena of free speech? But is this a strategy of Murdoch to truly have a candidate from within his broadcast empire? Maybe it is too much a grassy knoll theory. Perhaps.

Propaganda Personified in the Dear Leader

North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his cult of personality in every aspect of life is showcased in this provocative piece North Korea’s Cinema of Dreams from Al Jazeera’s “101 West” program.

Al Jazeera’s 2+ year effort to gain access for their story pays off lifting the veil of secrecy about North Korea’s vaulted propaganda enterprise in an insightful portrait of young students poised to become the next generation of the actors, performers, film makers and documentarians.

This piece stands in sharp contrast to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer who took cameras along with U.S. envoy Gov. Bill Richardson on one of his diplomatic missions last winter, but so many of the shots focused on Wolf reporting about what he saw and what he felt precious little time was left for actual photo journalism. We saw as much of Mr. Blitzer on camera as we saw Mr. Richardson, and very little was left for anything more than street scenes. This work by Al Jazeera is more about the substance of what is taught, learned and practiced with ample time devoted to interviews and first-person insights and much less about the cult of a TV personality enjoying what’s bandied as his exclusive reporting.

It’s easy to bash North Korea. Hidden, secretive, a throw back to the middle of the 20th century – an enemy, a member of the Axis of Evil, but we do not know much – we do not often focus except at moments of terror and the verge of war. We should know more, though for so many reasons we see and hear and pay attention to very little.

Admittedly it’s always entertaining to read the pure propaganda from the official North Korean news agency KCNA and to wonder just who writes it, edits it – much less thinks any one would even be interested.

Al Jazeera has produced a program worthy of our attention. The network is winning praise for its Witness series of cell phone interviews and reports on Mideast tumult, but long before the events in the streets of Cairo the network has been steadily producing programs on events, places and individuals that are often shuttered to or ignored by western media. The ongoing ban by many U.S. cable operators preventing carriage of the network is shameful in a society which promotes free expression of ideas, discussion and debate.

Out on a Limb – Modern Blogger Faces Community’s Scorn

Is a blogger a journalist free to write what they choose? Can some one writing about their own community – the epitome of citizen journalism – write freely without subjecting themselves to resident’s scorn?

Judging by the experience of Daniel Cavanagh who seems to have generated the ire of his Brooklyn New York enclave of Gerritsen Park, the answer is sadly, no. Cavanagh’s copy about local handshake deals and rowdy neighborhood youths has resulted in physical threats, property damage and intimidation. So much for the new era of civility and tolerance, so much for freedom of speech.
The New York Times piece Not Quite a Reporter, but Raking Muck and Reaping Wrath raises serious questions about hyperlocal journalists facing retribution, criticism, scorn and the ire of their friends and neighbors. It posits the question if some one cannot write critically, even if they transgress and write about some thing, one or relationship where they are personally engaged, is that in any way protected?
Hyperlocal is the commercial buzzword these days. There are large companies like AOL and its Patch sites, as well as scores of TV stations and newspapers creating local, multimedia coverage, soliciting local columns and information, posting truly granular data about a specific town or neighborhood. Is there no room for criticism? Is there no room for muckraking? Have we all gone so soft and superficial that we only care about supermarket coupons and yard sales?

Was the question rhetorical?

Just after the carnage in Tucson the airwaves, especially cable and talk radio, seemed filled with hand-wringing and calls for toning down the vitriol in political debate.

There appeared to be a chorus proclaiming a need to return to civility.

In the last 24 hours there has been a turn about – with one network in particular proclaiming that since there is no evidence that harsh words, intemperate thought and anger were at cause for the shootings, then they should not be held responsible nor subject to criticism.

I wonder – if things are so good across this country’s political spectrum, is there is no longer a need for civility?
How did things change so quickly? Did we forget already that regardless of the craziness of the shooter in Tucson, perhaps we all might do better with moderation in thought, anger and speech?

Knee Jerks & Reaction – Free speech or Gun Control?

Whether the tragedy in Arizona was caused by bulls-eyes on web sites or placards or vitriol may never be fully known. But in the response to this tragedy – to say or do something that will make us feel better – we again see a typical American response of “let’s put a band-aid on this” right away. There are already urgent calls for a quick-fix regardless of its long-term implications.

By Sunday there were calls in the media and Congress to restrict what can be said or used in political advertisements. There were calls to limit free speech. There were calls to put limits and penalties on what could be said in a country where it has been our historic right to protect free speech – even when some of what is said is odious.

It seems peculiar that these proponents are seeking to put a fix on free speech instead of looking at the real problem – the absolute proliferation of handguns – semi automatic weapons better suited for war than for sale at a sports store to an individual who will most likely plead an insanity defense for his senseless and selfish actions.

It would be a sad ending to this tragedy that our rights become victims of emotional decisions and knee jerk reaction.