I worked for one of the, at the time, big three networks for a number of years in the good old days. Back then, at least at my network, the news division was not compelled to produce a profit. This was supported by the founder of the network who was still alive and still involved in the management of the company. His belief was that journalistic integrity would be hurt by a profit motive.
Now this would seem to be a bad notion for a public company with a strong profit motive. It does, however, not imply that the news division was to be run irresponsibly or allowed to continuously abuse the corporate till. These are decisions that can clearly be managed for the overall good of the profit motivated parent. This point was lost on some of the journeyman managers who began to take over as time wore on. At one point it was declared that the news division must make money.
Some of us had a sinking feeling.
The sinking feeling was validated at a fancy, black tie affair in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria one night. I was sitting at a table with some great folks including the Director of News from the local owned and operated TV station of our network.
It was around 10PM when a non black tie dressed person rushed into the ballroom and came over to speak to the news director. After some whispering, he rushed off. The news director turned and apologized to the rest of us at the table for the whispering. He explained that there were two breaking stories in Gotham that night and a decision was needed about which story should lead the 11PM news.
As an aside, this story ages me (easy to do) because there were obviously no cell phones at the time.
He explained what the two stories were and we asked which one he chose. While I don’t remember what the stories were, I do remember that one was quite newsworthy but not exciting and the other was pretty much in the yellow journalism arena.
Guess which one he chose to lead the show?
Today, I don’t even watch the TV news except as a captive audience at the gym when it is the only thing on the television. Today, there are not just three networks there are… too many to count and many of them broadcast twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. That’s a ton of time to fill and fill they do. The amazing thing to me is that they get enough folks watching for advertisers to want to buy time on these networks.
The other night at the gym I was watching one of these networks consume their precious air time with the most inane commentary on the current state of the GOP primary campaigns. Now the GOP primary stuff is pretty inane all by itself but imagine what a service these networks could do if they used all of that spectrum that we, yes we, GIVE them to actually try to analyze just what the candidates positions are and how we might make an intelligent decision about whom to support.
Imagine if they did that without service to their own agendas.
Now the sad thing relates back to the fact that folks watch this stuff, hence the advertisers interest.
If they actually did great analysis, these very same folks would not watch and there would be no advertisers. Check out the ratings of some of the more thoughtful NPR shows. When a show had a really low rating, it would get an asterisk in the ratings books. We created a new noun and called these shows asterisks.
Asterisks did not last long.
So modern television news is really bad but how could it be fixed? One simple way, that I keep coming back to in my mind as I contemplate all of the troubles of the world, is for us to stop watching. No viewers, no advertisements, asterisks, and then no show, maybe no network.
Angry at the banks? Take your money out and invest it locally. Put the credit card away and use cash. Use local currency.
Don’t like the quality of the clothing you are getting these days? Buy only quality clothing made by someone you trust, preferably local.
Concerned about the planet? Don’t drive your car that much. Make your living space energy efficient.
I could keep going but the real question is why don’t folks do these things instead of complaining and hoping some other “authority” will take care of it and them?
Be personally responsible for yourself and what happens to you and then let’s see what happens to the world and its troubles.