Some strong feelings about “Why News is Dying”

I have a couple of firm comments regarding my earlier piece on “Why News is Dying.” The notes were not written to be published here so I’ll just excerpt them and exclude their author’s name.

My thesis was that it is opinion and point of view that is most lacking from our news efforts today (please read the piece for the whole thought). All comments are from day-to-day radio newspeople.

Comment #1:

I think it’s ridiculous. If facts are so easy and convenient to come by, why didn’t Mark Ramsey at least attempt to back up his assertion that news is dying? Newspapers are dying (but not nearly dead), but I don’t think NPR knows that it’s dying and shining a light on hidden facts and trying to find all parts of the story is something they excel at. McCarthy was brought down by the televised army vs.McCarthy hearings. It was great that Murrow convinced CBS to air them. I think what Ramsey is really advocating is the acceleration of a long-time trend in news. That is instead of using entertainment as a tool to disseminate news, newscasts and newscaster becomes entertainment and entertainers. Ramsey seems to equate balance with dullness, which is not at all the case. Substituting assertions for balanced information is simply being lazy, irresponsible and unfair and is doing a disservice to the community. Buuuuuuuuttttt………do you really think we could get Howard Stern to anchor some of our newscasts?

I don’t think Walter Cronkite was an “entertainer” when he criticized the Vietnam war. I don’t think Murrow was an “entertainer” when he vented the hot air from McCarthy. I don’t think Shepard Smith was an “entertainer” when he begged and pleaded for help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The myth of even-handed neutrality is a contemporary one but its mental tentacles run deep in the news establishment.

Could Howard Stern anchor your newscasts? Wake up. He already does.

The reference to NPR is apt, but it seems to me that NPR teems with opinion, although not to the degree I’m suggesting is possible.

Comment #2:

In general, I think this guy is raising the same point that people have raised for years about how the news needs to be more compelling–or people won’t watch/listen to it. I think, however, that it’s very risky to encourage broadcasters to soap box about their personal passions when they deliver the news. Journalists already have plenty of discretion in story selection, juxtaposition, and use of language. Our audiences won’t be better served by being lambasted with our personal prejudices. (We have talk radio for that.) Further, as long as NPR has a bigger audience than commercial stations, it would be illogical to conclude that the public is not interested in straight-forward news.

This writer assumes that “news” and “news/talk” are different and unique worlds. I submit those black lines are industry ones. In the minds of the audience it’s far more gray.

As for the note about NPR having a bigger audience than commercial stations, this is only true in a few markets that index high on education. And it’s aided by the fact that what NPR provides is unique from what every commercial station provides. This is not meant to diminish what NPR achieves. On the contrary, they are due every compliment for daring to do what commercial stations won’t (note that I didn’t say “can’t.”)

As for the “illogic” of my conclusions, just because AC is successful doesn’t mean you need to be an AC to be successful. Catch my drift?

And finally this:

I stopped believing in objectivity the first time I was sent to cover a mid air collision. There was still frost on the ground, and the baby bottles, shoes, and car keys were among crystallized body parts. I was severely chastised when my voice broke during my live shot. I learned then not to show the human emotion that had consumed me in that field, even though it was against everything I felt intuitively. Since then, I’ve learned to trust myself, my judgment, and my news sense. The era of the omniscient, “Voice from God” broadcaster is over. The broadcasters who are earning the respect of young consumers (because they’ve already read the information on the internet anyway) are the people who can make the information more accessible, who speak informally , but coherently, and go beyond “he said, she said” journalism to find the truth. Walter Cronkite, followed in the footsteps of Murrow’s “advocacy reporting” when he came back from Vietnam and announced to the public that Vietnam, was indeed a quagmire. It changed the American public’s view of the war, and helped lead to the eventual withdraw of US troops. Bill Moyers continued that kind of reporting on NOW, one of the most watched programs on PBS. Lou Dobbs does it best on CNN. I think we have the opportunity to do it here at [WXXX]. Yes, we’ll have some angry e-mails. People mired in the past want their oatmeal served the same everyday. But if we are fair, take aim at both sides of the political aisle, and truly advocate on behalf of our listeners, I think we’ll stand a chance as serving as the model for local radio news and information.

Bravo.

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