Want to 'save' broadcast journalism? It's time to throw the baby out with the bath water. Film at 11!
As journalists we will look back at these last couple of years as the 'Hand Wringing' era, the same way the Romans looked back on Nero's reign as the 'toasty' times. We are typing while our journalistic world burns.
My time in the newspaper business was short. It dawned on me quickly that the pay in broadcasting was better--about $20 more a week. So while I can't speak with any authority about the demise of the daily rags, I'm guessing that there are parallels with broadcasting, particularly television. While I get allot of my 'breaking' news from various Internet sources, the time I spend every day with a couple of newspapers is some of the most pleasurable and fulfilling. So why is journalism dying?
It's not, but the old business models are. And that's one of the biggest problems with the entire discussion about the future of my profession--the lack of distinction between journalism and the business of journalism.
Journalism, the profession, has always been under some kind of attack from somewhere. Most likely from people or institutions who don't like the idea of someone asking questions and getting answers that they might not want exposed to public view. That's when we're doing our best work. Even the idea of calling it a profession has been questioned on occasion--there's a silly notion these days that 'citizen journalists' can somehow make up for the shortfall in academically trained ones. It has the same populist appeal as a Holiday Inn Express commerical, and is about as useful. What say we make up for the shortfall in general practioners with some 'citizen doctors'?
But assuming that we journalists have enough self respect to call ourselves professionals and defend the notion, then why are we letting the sales department control our fate? You see, journalists don't actually run the journalism business---business people do. Owning a newspaper, or television station, or Internet site doesn't make you a journalist, it just means you're in the journalism business.
And while its too early to tell how the Internet thing is going to go, we do know that the television business has allot in common with the automobile industry. In fact, you might say that television, particularly at the local level, is dependent on one economic sector more than any other for revenue--car sales.
I wonder how that's going to turn out?
What the broadcast journalism business needs is an infusion of journalism---new, energetic, passionate, journalism. It also needs a new presentation model--do you have any idea how long the circle 7, Eyewitness News, Newscenter 4, Action News formats have been in use? Too long. Why hasn't there been a change? Why didn't GM figure things out before this? Because those folks who have spent thier lives running the business side of both industries have been trying hard to 'maintain'. Looking backwards, doing things the way they used to be done. Well, it's time for a new approach.
It's time for some brave soul somewhere to ditch the '3 good looking people behind the desk' format and go to something new. It's time for the 'leadership' of news departments and television stations around the country to figure out a new revenue model, instead of just sending those same sales people out to the same car dealerships day after day. It's time to understand that sharing news resources eliminates competition and competition spurs good journalism. It's time to understand that a federal bailout is a silly notion, but that making news and public affairs a requirement for license renewal, and enforcing it, is not. Its time to understand that doing anything just to hold onto that 3 share at 5 just so it won't go to a 1 share isn't going to work. Its going to a 1 share no matter what--unless you change.
And its time journalists became activists on their own behalf. Where is the anger instead of the angst?
Broadcast journalism is not dying a natural death, its being killed off slowly by a lack of business leadership and neglect. It was suggested by someone recently that if I felt so strongly I should consider getting into management. I ran it by a manager or two that I know, they wanted to know if I was 'looney'.
Maybe its time to get crazy.