Saturday, July 22, 2006

I caved in

I've not posted here for too long a period. My apologies. Both a heavy work load and a week off have contributed to a lack of activity.

I caved in this week and wrote part of my editorial column about the president's veto of the stem cell research bill. I was a little desperate.

I have four different editions that serve 12 communities. Sometimes I'm able to write one column and the subject matter is regional enough that it fits in all editions. Sometimes I write two and on rare weeks even more than that.

I think writing about state events from a western Massachusetts perspective is legitimate, but I always feel that I'm cheating when I write something that is national.

After all there are many (some might say too many) pundits out there in papers and blogs following the national stuff, while there is too little discussion of local and regional issues in our local press here.

It's getting back to my mantra of "Local, Local, Local."

In most markets our size or smaller ( we're the 108th largest or so) there is far less discussion of the issues and events that affect readers the most. It's the local media's duty to bring up discussion and provide venues for citizens to share their views.

And while there used to be a fair amount of that discussion going on in various arenas, it's happening less and less today as corporate media take over more and more outlets. The suits then run the outlet ( radio, television or paper) for the maximum profit with the minimal investment. Corporations like to play things safe and having people speak about issues requires local editorials on television, local talk show hosts on radio and local columns in papers. It's cheaper to buy into syndicated material and consumers seem to accept it because they don't have a choice in many areas.

So with a reporter out on vacation, politicians laying low in many towns in the July heat and having a brain that was fried by the end of the week, I took the easy root and wrote part of a column on Bush and his veto. Maybe I'll get a few letters.

Hey, it happens.

©2006 by G. Michael Dobbs. My words. My responsibility.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Why print is still essential

The interesting thing about journalism today is that television is considered by many people as the top of the ladder. Many journalists aspire for a television career and certainly the public thinks of TV news as being the desirable of the mediums.

And frankly when there were people such a Edward R. Murrow working, TV had great potential. Under the current market conditions though, it no longer has.

Nationally, I'm convinced that people don't want news, they want fluff. They buy into the perception that a talking head such as Bill O'Reilly is a "newsman." O'Reilly is a TV personality, not a reporter. His point of view is no more valid than anyone's else.

It's cheaper for FOX. MSNBC and CNN to put on a talking head spewing their empty observations than to pay for reporters and producers to go and report events, issues and personalities.

There are always exceptions to these failures, but for the most part, TV fails to live up to its potential on the local and national levels in this country.

Consider the following:

* Local newscasts in markets such as ours (108th in country) can not afford to produce enough local content to fill a 90- minute block, but because of the conventions governing the industry they put on a 90-minute block any way. They fill it with endless weather forecasts, worthless man in the street reaction stories, and stories they pick up from their networks.

* They no longer can afford to send out reporters to stories and instead are now asking camera people to shoot video AND ask questions, in essence replacing reporters.

* Most TV news people play the game of working in an area such as ours just so they can get some clips for their resume. It's hopscotch. In too many cases, there is much sense of knowing and understanding a community.

And yet folks will hold their event for the convenience of TV. I've waited at numerous press conferences waiting for the TV crews to show up. My being there on time means nothing. I'm just the print guy who will actually stay for the entire event and give it the coverage it deserves.

Don't get me wrong, I get plenty of respect. This entry isn't about print guys getting shoved around by the TV people. I even like some of the reporters who I know roll the eyes at the stuff they have to do.

The fact remains that local TV does a lousy job of reporting about issues and politics. If a story can't be shoe-horned into a two minute spot and if it's not camera friendly, let's skip it for something quicker and cheaper.

Like interviewing people in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart about how they feel about gas prices. I haven't seen one of those yet that surprised me. Imagine that, people don't want to pay $3 a gallon for gas.

Is that news? No. It's filler.

Local print, whether its on paper or the web, remains the medium for examining something in-depth. In most cases, TV has chosen to be shallow in the name of ratings and bottom line, despite its great potential.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. Yes, TV folks will be pissed at me. These are my words alone.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Some folks just don't get it

I received a press release the other day from a candidate who was making an important announcement on a Saturday night at 8 p.m.

I called his campaign guy and explained I would be happy to write about it but I couldn't attend. In fact, probably no one from the local press would attend.

I don't know if he appreciated my advice when I explained there weren't many reporters working on a Saturday night and that at 8 p.m. he would have missed the deadline for the daily anyway.

Here's a golden rule in dealing with local press: do your research and give them an event they want when they want it.

There is some news that can't be scheduled, but this story wasn't one of them. In a market such as this one, no one can afford to have a reporting crew just sitting around 24/7 waiting to be sent on an assignment. Those days have long passed.

One TV stations out of the three commercial stations in our market has an overnight videographer who dutifully provides us with shots of overnight traffic accidents, police incidents or fires. But that's it.

Television, though, hates local politics because of the subject's lack of strong visual images. In fact to listen to news directors (and I have) say what people are really interested in is an eyeopener: they want stories about what affects their finances and their safety. Oh, yes, and the frickin' weather forecast repeated in various ways throughout the day.

More on covering local campaigns tomorrow.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. These words are mine alone.