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What’s Really Wrong with All-News

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip February 5, 2004

All-News stations don’t do much research, and that’s too bad. Because if ever there was a format that could exist in every market but doesn’t, this would be it. But not the kind of pure and painfully even-handed All-News you hear on the Radio now. I’m talking about something a lot more interesting to a lot more listeners. The market for news is changing fast, and if you don’t react you’ll get what you’re asking for, good and hard.

Where are the Young Folks?

Why is it that News stations are primarily appealing over age 35? In fact, why does ALL News-related programming in virtually all media cease to be relevant for younger readers, listeners, and viewers? Is it because there’s not enough “Info-tainment” coverage and the stories are too long, as newspapers believe? Is it because Tom Brokaw is not as good looking as Brian Williams? Is it because young folks aren’t interested in news, weather, and traffic headlines on the Radio?

No. It’s because we have a news establishment that values neutrality and objectivity above all else. And while the image of “fair and balanced” sounds like something we can all agree on, at its heart it’s heartless and amoral and bland. It robs newsreaders of their opinions, it robs reporters of their personalities, it steals their souls. It leaves us with automatons and expects us to give a crap.

A History Lesson

Opinions need not be the province of Talk hosts and Fox News pundits only. Younger people are turning off the news media in all its forms because it is hugely boring – it knows all the facts but has no passion, no point of view. It is inhuman, and thus unrelatable.

It wasn’t always this way. American journalism is rooted in the pamphleteers of the 18th century. People like Thomas Paine who intuitively understood, as writer Jon Katz has argued, that journalists should be folks on the outside looking in. Journalism wasn’t “just the facts, ma’am,” it was all about advocacy. It was about a cause. It was about being outspoken, not objective. The point of view was strong, the sense of social justice was intense. They had a determination to tell the truth, not to balance the argument on what are presumed to be both sides. Check out what newspaper man H. L. Mencken wrote in the Baltimore Evening Sun as he witnessed attorney Clarence Darrow’s address during the Scopes “Monkey” Trial eighty years ago: “It rose like a wind and ended like a flourish of bugles. But the morons in the audience, when it was over, simply hissed it.” Both sides where?

Enter the NEW News

The Tonight Show, the Jon Stewart Show, Saturday Night Live – these are the new faces of journalism in America. There, studies show, the young folks go to be informed because the traditional media machine long ago lost its heart and forgot that “free speech” means the right to fearlessly speak your mind. When the FCC recently declared Howard Stern’s show a bona-fide news interview program, the only thing absurd about it is that it took so long for the suits to figure out the obvious. Highlight this: People want a subjective, not objective, news media. One man’s “bias” is another man’s point of view. No wonder journalism isn’t trusted – how much do you trust someone who hides their feelings from you and pretends they don’t exist?

So does this mean every All-News station should let the opinions of their newsreaders roll freely? Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s not the old-timers which will lead this charge, but their fresh-faced opposition. The old-timers and their old-time audience are set in their ways. Just as Classic Rock is only remotely compatible with New Rock, so will Classic Journalism be only vaguely related to the NEW News. And every one of your markets has a hole for that.

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