THE BLOG

Experienced Reporters Unwanted

04/07/2008 12:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Several experienced Bay Area reporters were "let go" this week. This is a national trend in local television news that can only hurt a democracy.

Wake up, dear friends.

Your local news has the money to buy a helicopter and install expensive high definition, but not the money to hire experienced investigative reporters to help protect your community? Shame on those handful of money-grubbing corporations who own the air waves these days. They have sold out the citizens who once depended on them.

News is now considered just another sales "product." That is a direct quote I heard from one local television executive.

If you think the corporations don't have the money to hire experienced reporters to protect you -- what ARE they buying? I can name two things:

Helicopters and High Definition: One supplies empty calories, the other distracts with pretty pictures intended to look like news.

I recently published an op-ed called. "Switch Channels When the Helicopter Arrives!" The helicopter provides nothing but filler. It's truly mind-molesting to consider the logic of these mega-media-corporations. They begin losing money on newscasts, so they add more! What kind of stinkin-thinkin is that? Instead of making one newscast great, they have 10 mediocre ones! Then they have to fill the endless hours with cheap enfotainment a la helicopter shots of traffic jams, car chases, and grass fires.

Consider how many times anchors sound like third graders and look even sillier by tossing to endless helicopter shots that do nothing but distract viewers by taking up time. I suppose they think that if it is a grass fire on high definition it will look like news!

The money they spend on toys could be spent on experienced investigative reporters instead.

High definition also cost a fortune, and it too insures some destructive results. Inexpensive, and inexperienced anchors and reporters are guaranteed after high definition is installed. Why you ask? It's simple really -- only 20- and 30-years-olds look good on high definition. Wrinkles, thinning hair and age spots don't. Even though the seasoned reporter might deliver invaluable information, some idiot from some focus group tells the corporations " I just hate her hair!" The corporations next move? An ad -- fresh meat wanted.

This new "fresh meat' rarely has the experience once required to sit in that chair or report on a community they hardly know. They look and sound good, but what about protecting the citizens in their communities? Do they understand that's their job? More importantly, the corporations don't want them too smart or asking too many questions. That's why the investigative reporters are out...the naive and beautiful are in. I call this a form of censorship, the viewers are the victims.

If the public does not understand that experienced reporters are fired because they complain about what journalism has become, and they don't look good on high def., the corporations will continue adding cheap broadcasts with inexpensive and inexperienced anchors and reporters, many of whom have never walked outside the studio to learn about the communities they are supposed to protect. They can, however, ad-lib beautifully when it comes to car chases, grass fires and traffic jams. "Man oh man, look at chopper threes pictures of that grass fire-- the wind is certainly blowing!"

How can journalists protect you, and help you put events in perspective with a sense of context without understanding events themselves? They simply cannot. I have become convinced the leaders of many media corporations get confused if they try. They too have been dumbed down and fear questions might lose corporate sponsors.

At least now, viewers are speaking with their remotes. Local television news has gone from Chez Panisse to McDonalds. It is self-destructing by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Once great broadcasts have become tabloid provocateurs. Did any local broadcast lead with the Scooter Libby trial over Anna Nicole Smith? If they did, I did not see it. One involved treason that reached the highest levels of government, the other involved a sad little girl whose lack of self-reflection and self-esteem led to her death. Her story was perverse, Libby's story revealed a government out-of-control.

Rupert Murdoch and Fox News seem to be the media corporate icon and network all other corporations appear determined to imitate -- dumb down the audience, and they won't notice their own well being is compromised.

I understand a news anchor "reporting" from The San Francisco Bay Area does not live in the community he claims to inform. How can that be? It's much like a police officer refusing to patrol his or her beat. Without understanding the community, how can journalists keep its citizens safe? Reporters and anchors have to understand what's happening outside the studio door in order to ask the right questions and provide perspective and context. Side note: that same anchor, I am told, flies "home" every weekend and does commercials in his spare time. Holy smokes! How sad for the viewers who need a news organization to trust.

Remember when Tom Brokaw refused to do commercials years ago? He said his network might need to expose wrongdoing by those corporations someday, and the conflict of interest would stand in his way. Now the bar is so low, a snail with limbo skills would have trouble sliding under it.

I have written many articles on the media. There are some fine people still working within the corporate system hoping they can change it. I am very proud to know them. But, lets face it, the real free exchange of ideas is happening online and outside the mainstream media.