Friday, May 22, 2009

Another Bump On The Road To Hell

You've seen plenty of entries on this blog fretting about how newspapers and radio are dying a slow and painful death. Well, let's not leave out the third sign of the apocalypse, OK? The Washington Post reported today that Channels 4, 5 and 9 here in the DC area have formed a cooperative TV pool service, so that when mundane news conferences or ribbon-cuttings are held, just one station can bother to send a camera, with all three stations sharing the video from the event.

Won't this further homogenize the news and make all three stations look alike? Yes. With only one station in attendance, won't that discourage the gathering of sidebar stories, and won't the discovery of news stories suffer because only one reporter might be on hand to ask questions? Yes. Won't this just give the stations even more of an excuse to watch the bottom line instead of focusing on creating better TV news? Yes it will.

It is jaw dropping to consider how quickly local journalism in this country is going to hell. Even just a couple of years ago, being a major market counted for something. TV reporters had camera operators to work with. Radio stations had real news staffs. Newspapers had real beat reporters. And consumers received actual news. All of that is going, or is already gone - even in the Nation's Capital.

I am not looking to point fingers, and it's pointless to blame the economy. The news business was heading in a downward spiral long before the stock market tanked. The Internet has changed the world in far more many ways than I could begin to discuss here, but somehow, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Demand for information is at an all-time high, while the consumers making those demands are also demanding to get all of this information for free.

Push is going to HAVE to come to shove at some point, people. TV and Radio news stations are not really gathering news any more - They are regurgitating what the read in the papers. And the papers have cut their staffs so thin that they are only covering a fraction of what they used to cover.

There is no corporate financial incentive right now for station owners to crank out expensive news product when they can rely on other sources to do investigative work and enterprise reporting, then steal it for themselves. As long as the stations can throw something up on the air that resembles news, that's really all they care about.

But mark my words... The day is coming when there will be another Katrina, or God forbid - another September 11th. People are going to need more information than the crippled TV and radio and newspapers can deliver. And very suddenly, there will be an outcry that will get some newsrooms rescued from mothballs. I truly believe it will take that kind of need to pull the news business out of this decline.

The young adults who are really just now getting married, having families and getting mortgages - in other words, becoming news consumers - are the same people who grew up as teenagers getting all of their music for free on Napster. They are the same people who feel they have the God-given right to receive whatever media they want - and to get it for free.

They say the customer is always right. But they also say you get what you pay for.

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