29 August 2003

The Industry Strikes Back

Earlier this week, I posted a letter to the editor of a TV Station from a Broadcasting professor lambasting the Local TV News industry.

Herein is a rebuttal from a General Manager to Mandell's comments:

Response to 8/25/03 article "The Ten Little Secrets Of Local TV News":

I feel sad that Ted Mandell actually is teaching our future journalists.

His occasional honest discovery is simply overpowered by the other self-importance drivel and misdirected sarcasm. This whole thing sounds more like the e-mails I get from shut-in viewers with emotional problems, complaining about the President preempting Guiding Light. It certainly isn't instructive, and really just deserves a big "duuh!".

Local news isn't really very innovative any more; I'll give you that, but it certainly hasn't "rotted" for the past 20 years. Surely Mr Mandell is aware of the myriad ways that people get their information today - and the effect that's had on broadcast viewing, not to mention Local News viewing?

Those reporters and anchors (and producers) that he makes fun of are really just doing their job as best they can, inside the parameters laid out for them. If anyone should be faulted for the state of broadcast newscasts, it should be the GM's and News Directors who haven't taken the time, or had the guts, to create new and innovative approaches to news delivery. On the other hand, that's a tough call for an advertising-supported medium competing in an increasingly monthly fee-based business.

Bottom-line pressures are intense, because the audiences are being splintered, and broadcasters earn their living via accumulating large audiences. The economic models are different between broadcast and cable/satellite news nets, and that is causing lots of scrambling as we try to find our way in the 21st century...but we will find it, just as sure as we'll find better ways to do local news.

Mandell sounds like a person who actually believes that a perfect newscast model exists, and that we're all somewhere on the bad/good continuum toward it - and probably going backwards. What I believe is that our local newscasts are a pretty good reflection of what our society is, or what it tolerates (or both) and they'll be as different five years from now as society is different then. Who should set the bar for what a really good newscast looks like? Who determines the acceptance? When is it too raw?

How much teasing is too much? For broadcast, I believe it's the audience
that makes that choice. However, just as a pure majority choice can create some ugly societal outcomes, total dependence on audience preference would probably leave us with Jerry Springer news.

We need professional standards in news gathering and presentation, and that's where Academia best serves journalism. Rather than sarcasm aimed at the working folks, how about our academics taking the time to work with broadcast managers? That should make something happen in newsrooms, and maybe rather quickly.

Tom Long
WRGB, Albany/Schenecdady/Troy

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