less news than we bargained for.

Earlier today came the official announcement of the end of an era, on Syracuse’s WTVH-5 ceasing news operations and laying off 40 loyal employees. This hits home for me, because 5 is the TV news I’ve watched since I was a young boy, an outlet that helped interest me in journalism and where I had my most influential internship.

The announcement tries to position it as 5′s newsroom merging with that of neighbor and former rival WSTM-3, but it essentially ends an institution with a proud tradition. TV5 was SUNY Oswego grad Al Roker’s first professional weatherman gig. When I interned there, one of the nicest guys was Mike Tirico, now well known as a lead announcer for ABC Sports and ESPN. Other TV5 alumni are working jobs all over the country, thankful for the small-market start.

This news came on the heels of the Rocky Mountain News’ abrupt shuttering by parent company Scripps Howard. If you happen to have 20 minutes to spare, the video on the ghost paper’s home page is an engaging yet devastating documentation of the end of a proud and important paper. And the sad thing is that more TV5s and Rockys will join the club of former journalism outlets.

One part where I disagree with the RMN video, and other pundits on this subject, is in the anger and blame directed at bloggers for the demise of journalism. This is misplaced, albeit trendy: While there are some rogue bloggers trying to supplant journalists, most bloggers (and Twitters and Facebookers) trafficking in current events post links to newspaper articles. It’s just a different distribution method, as I don’t know a single blogger who wants to see newsrooms close, or is working toward putting journalists out of work.

If you’re looking for blame, try corporate boardrooms that have bought up all these journalism outlets and see them as lines on a balance sheet … not as the community resources they are. When Scripps Howard gives up after a mere month of trying to find a buyer for the Rocky Mountain News, when Granite Broadcasting decides to phase out 5′s news function, they are merely redlining an expense to keep shareholders happy. That a community with fewer journalism checks on power is a disservice to everyone, that cities shedding jobs now losing news sources they’ve come to trust like friends is one more kick in the gut … these human costs do not fit into the equation. No film at 11, no special edition, just a fade to black.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “less news than we bargained for.

  1. I had not heard this yet. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised.
    “If you’re looking for blame, try corporate boardrooms that have bought up all these journalism outlets and see them as lines on a balance sheet … not as the community resources they are.”
    I think you summed it up right there.
    And if the media would’ve integrated these Web 2.0 technologies — or even Web sites! — into their biz plans a decade ago, I don’t think we’d be seeing the impending exodus.
    Scary times, these.

  2. insidetimshead

    Quite right, Shane. It seems as if papers didn’t embrace and understand the Web model for years, and not many do now. Recognizing and adjusting years ago, instead of kneejerk reaction now, would have been the better plan.

    In coverage of these stories, the mainstream media — mostly owned by other conglomerates — tend to overlook the elephant in the room, muttering things about falling readership, evolving business models, etc. … you’ll rarely hear the MSM talk about how corporations consider news outlets just one more commodity, not the community resources they should be.

  3. To get some sense of what the corporate titans of major newspapers were thinking about the web a decade ago, I suggest you watch just the first three minutes of this video. (Don’t watch the whole thing because it’s painfully dull. But the first three minutes are insightful.)

    It is sad to hear of the shuttering of yet another media outlet. This news is becoming far too common.

  4. This is (more) sad news. I agree–it’s not about bloggers trying to kill off the MSM, but about corporate greed and mismanagement. OTOH, I wouldn’t be sorry to see Clear Channel flounder. I live in a small media market and as far as I can tell our local, independent papers are doing OK. But I am concerned about the effects of the recession/depression on other local media.

  5. insidetimshead

    ANDREW: Great bit in the front of that video. I’m sure not everyone’s views were so extreme, but that kind of attitude was quite common. I know from being online editor for a daily from 1999 to 2001 that most people considered it a 2nd-class dissemination method.

    MICHAEL: I think a lot of people share those ClearChannel thoughts. I know the friends they just laid off do. The health of indie papers, however, is important!

  6. Amy

    A-Channel cut their evening newscasts in Ottawa today, and a bunch of other shows across Canada.

    In this week’s episode of This American Life, Ira Glass talks about choosing to skip out on certain recurrent news stories. Just tuning out for weeks or months or years until it’s all over.

    I’m a journalism student – stories about cuts and job losses in the news industry apply to me directly. But I am so. Sick. Of hearing about it. I want it to go away, not because I’m worried about getting a job or being forced into communications.

    I want it to go away so I don’t have to tune it out.

  7. insidetimshead

    AMY: Perhaps unintended, you’ve made me think about another contributing factor: Lazy journalism. Too many newsrooms approach their product with a ‘how do we fill this hole?’ mentality instead of asking what it takes to make a great news product. And this makes the audience want to go elsewhere to find something interesting.

    The recurrent and the recursive that make the viewer go away are part of the problem. Yet if a newsroom is being lazy (or chronically understaffed), they turn to the recurrent, rehashing a story without really advancing it, or the recursive, covering themselves (because it’s easy to call an editor friend and interview them about what’s happening). News junkies like you or I may care, but much of the public doesn’t. (And I don’t ‘American Idol’ and ‘Bachelor’ non-news items belong in the mix, but opinions differ.)

    It’s not that there aren’t a lot of real news stories out there to search out and cover. I just don’t know that many newsroom are really even trying.

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