Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mass ‘communications’ are a mess

rainey BARRETT


At a time when we need more hard, accurate information from local and national media, we’re getting less. And it’s getting worse.

“News radio” isn’t “news radio” anymore. It’s “talk radio.” In too many cases, it’s “hate talk radio.” Dispense five minutes an hour of news on the networks and 55 minutes of B.S. Not the “hard news” information source it was created to be. And – at one time – was.

Television is even worse. A steady diet of news interspersed with personal – often political – commentary that would’ve gotten a reporter fired 20 years ago. There’s a place for such stuff but not when facts are being reported. In addition, have you noticed there’s no “live” network TV news in the Pacific Time Zone after 6 p.m. any day? Just features and reruns of mostly “talking head” shows that ran earlier. CNN – MSNBC – FOX – or any other.

We in P-D-T are also being ignored by most early morning network news shows. Oh, they’re out there. But starting at 3 a.m.! And most are not rebroadcast for the west coast in our area. ABC, NBC, CBS and other nets used to do recorded reruns. Now not many. Bean counters, you know. “Not economical.” “Hurts profitability.”

And newspapers. Ah, newspapers. The story there is harder to tell but the news ain’t good. Ridenbaugh Press proprietor Randy Stapilus did an excellent lead piece recently about the gutting of Oregon’s best newspaper the “Oregonian.” It’s going from daily home delivery to four days a week. Noting the paper is now owned by a national corporation, Stapilus wrote “The Oregonian will no longer be a true daily newspaper (at least not in the sense that distinguishes it from every weekly newspaper that also runs a 24/7 website). It will have a far smaller reporting and editing staff. There will be less local and regional news coverage. News consumers in Oregon will be taking a major hit.” Days later, 35 reporters were fired and management announced a move out of the long-time home near downtown Portland to smaller quarters.

Other major city dailies are taking the same hits. Some – as in Seattle – have gone out of business while others have shifted publication almost entirely to the web. Hundreds of smaller papers have been bought by large companies and decisions that used to be made locally now come from Chicago-Boston-New York and a corporation more intent on “return on investment” than the extent and quality of local reporting.

We have a little almost-daily, almost-newspaper here in the Oregon woods owned by a small company. Management continually reminds us “we’re a local paper here to report on local news” and “you can get your other news somewhere else.” Fair enough. Except I’ve noticed recently large national wire service stories – even on the front page. Several pages in each issue are entirely world and national news or syndicated material like advice and medical columns. The self-declared “localness” has been dilluted. Reporting staff smaller. Pages fewer. Local stories fewer and skimpier.

I can jump the verbal fence and argue on the side for management. “Costs and overhead – need to follow readers to the web – hard to attract and keep local reporters – corporate decisions out of our hands.” Obvious. True.

But the issue here is that – at a time when the world that starts just down the block and extends to outer space is getting more convoluted, changing daily and requiring more of our time to be accurately informed – we’re getting less. Less hard information. Less local. Less national. Less in-depth reporting. Less access. Fewer issues. Fewer hours of broadcast news. More reruns. Important facts we need are harder to come by and there are fewer of them available.

There was a time – not so long ago – when news operations were devoted to getting the news on the editorial side while the business side hustled the bucks to pay the bills. Get the story. Pay the bills. No more. Sadly, no more. Now, it’s more often a remotely-made decision “what can we afford to pay for and still turn a profit?”

In far too many markets, news “gathering” has given way to news “reaction.” Enterprise reporting – going out and finding the story – has given way to following up on what happened. Not finding stories that need reporting but doing wrap-ups and “what-do-you-think-about-what-happened?” “Digging” journalism is dying.

I’m not terribly concerned with fewer news organizations or even what platform they use to reach us. I AM concerned that “fewer” does not mean those remaining are “better.” I AM concerned that fewer broadcast hours or fewer pages or even fewer publications make getting the news harder to access. I AM concerned that too much news has become drivel passed off as “news.” I AM concerned government requirements for broadcasters to “serve the public interest” with local news and public affairs have been abolished. I AM concerned business decisions too often trump news decisions. I AM concerned that “celebrity” has replaced real news value.

But mostly I”m concerned that truly important daily upheavals in our lives – in our government – in our world – are not being fully and accurately reported. Who’s covering City Hall, the county courthouse, local courts, the school board regularly instead of waiting for “news releases?” Too many of the institutions for such reporting are being eliminated or curtailed at a time when their work is sorely needed. Too much of what we call “reporting” has become someone else’s opinions rather than the facts we badly need to form our own opinions.

In this time of rapid political and societal change affecting every one of us, we’re being poorly served by institutions we’ve relied on for important information: for facts – for perspective – for exposing lies – for getting the truth. In so many ways, our technology has already surpassed our ability to administer it. And our reduced, watered-down systems of public information aren’t helping us change that.

Share on Facebook