Having worked in the advertising and broadcasting business for over forty years, I continue to follow their economic status closely. In addition to watching broadcast and cable news, I read two home delivered newspapers, namely The South Bend Tribune and USA Today, and scan several newspapers on-line daily, i.e., The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun Times.
Over the years I was personally responsible on an oversight basis for newscasts on eight different television stations, so I have some inside appreciation of the problems and opportunities news presents to station owners. I remember Chuck Scarborough as a bright, fresh faced, young anchorman at WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, MS. I hired Jane Skinner for her first job out of college as a reporter for KBJR-TV in Duluth, MN. Chuck is leaving WNBC-TV in New York after thirty years as the number one anchor there and Jane is a daytime anchor at the Fox News Channel.
Each weekday morning I receive an online subscription to an insider newsletter titled “News Bluezette.” Lately there are an ever increasing number of reports of veteran station anchors being terminated, stations not renewing anchor employment contracts or extending early retirement offers to them. Stations are also slashing other newsroom employees: producers, reporters, editors, photographers, etc. Stations across the country are battling reduced advertising revenues and huge newsroom budget obligations. The majority of television stations are no longer owned by local individuals or families, but by huge corporations or investment houses. Therefore, the attainment of revenue goals rules all judgments.
On a daily basis we read of major newspapers closing or filing for bankruptcy. Increasingly young people today are not reading newspapers or viewing television. The American viewer is increasingly forced to watch lesser qualified television news people who are also operating with little or no backup support. We see a diminished product due to fewer reporters and production qualities also suffering significantly. Gone are too many veteran journalists who produced a product that you could bet your life on for accuracy and integrity.
The newspaper and television business has changed forever, and it will never be the same product that we all grew up reading and watching. Cable and the internet are now the choice as the source for news, information, and education. Years ago, the local paper and local newscasts were vital to our knowledge and ability to make intelligent decisions. Now we are misled by thin reporting, bias coverage, and staffs so small they cannot do the job properly. Today there are just too many competitive forces competing for each set of eyes. As a result, content suffers.
The future of many newspapers appears bleak, and I suspect we will be reading our local newspapers on our computers in the not too distant future. Thanks to union contracts, newspapers cannot be competitive. Television station revenues are falling. No one has found a way to successfully replace those dollars with a revenue stream generated by their websites. I predict we will eventually see one of the major networks drop all of their local affiliates and become strictly a cable network, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the shift.
There have been a number of television and newspaper reporters of note over the years; people like Edward R. Murrow, Irving R. Levine, Tim Russert, Robert Novak, Roland Evans, Lawrence Spivak, Mike Royko. The same is true of publishers or network heads: Col. Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, Ben Bentley who led the Washington Post to historical coverage of the Watergate Scandal, William Paley of CBS, Leonard Goldenson of ABC, and David Sarnoff of NBC.
I have been around long enough to know that one “must adapt or perish,” but I do long for the good old days when we could admire and depend upon our journalists for their hard work, accuracy and integrity. There are still many wonderful people toiling in media under increasingly difficult financial pressures, but they are becoming younger and younger and are less experienced than their predecessors. However, that is because they work for less and have a lesser impact on the budget. It’s sad, but true.
In the April 13th issue of Time Magazine there is an interesting factoid: “Since 1985 the number of reporters who cover Capitol Hill has DECLINED by 72%.” With a statistic like that would the Watergate Scandal ever have been investigated by journalists? A drop like this is not in our collective best interests.