“BREAKING NEWS FROM C-N-N” Accompanied by their children, long time couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie today announced their engagement though they did not set a specific date for their wedding.

Given my very low professional opinion of nearly all broadcast news over the past decade or two, I shouldn’t have been surprised by those words coming from my television. But I was. Stunned and damned mad!

TV and radio networks – and a couple of thousand local outlets – have cheapened the words “Breaking News” over the years. Those words used to be saved for assassinations, plane crashes, earthquakes, floods and the like. But that’s only a symptom of what’s wrong.

The basic problem is nearly all broadcast ownership is no longer in the hands of broadcast professionals. Thanks to 30 years of presidential appointments of the wrong people to the Federal Communications Commission, the industry is being run by bean counters and other management types who are solely responsible to boards of directors, shareholders and private investors.

Clear Channel Communications is one of the largest radio owners with more than 850 stations. It amassed nearly all of them in the 1990’s when the F-C-C changed rules of ownership and radio licenses became just so many Monopoly board properties to be acquired by big bucks investors. No matter how small the local market, stations were snapped up by Clear Channel and others at prices not supported by their sales income. This became all too apparent when Clear Channel and a lot of other “investors” eventually wound up in bankruptcy proceedings. Television outlets suffered much the same fate though nearly all belong to groups with far less holdings than most radio ownerships.

Why is this important and how is it connected to my outrage with CNN and it’s “Breaking News” prostitution? The upshot of all this – regardless of radio or TV – is that it has become strictly a “bottom line” business with faceless owners disconnected from – and too many times ignorant of – actual operation, demanding profits on investments no matter how badly made years ago in the purchasing.

The effects are everywhere. Have you noticed, for example, that CNN and Fox are no longer “24 hour” news operations? Have you watched weekend “news” and the pablum that fills the hours? Budgets have been drastically cut, staffs reduced, bureaus closed, satellite time pared to minimal levels. Stories such as there are get endless and inane “reporting.” Does the name Treyvon Martin ring a bell? Does groundless speculation beyond the basic facts sound familiar? Way too familiar?

One major reduction in both quality and reliability at news networks is the firing of long-time professionals – with higher contract salaries. They’ve been replaced by new, younger faces with minimal experience and much less access to newsmakers which only comes with years of development. But their contracts cost much less.

As a result, we viewers/listeners are getting more “news release” chaff published by politicians, government agencies, corporations and others. Few “reporters” go beyond that stage so “news” has largely become whatever is in the handouts. Without such freebies, local broadcasts would have little to fill the newscasts. Fact is, many of them show no embarrassment at all when saying “…according to a news release.”

Under Ronald Reagan, his appointees even removed the requirement of most local broadcasters to carry local news. Operation “in the public interest” became just so many words on a license application. Local programming has been replaced on many stations by three-hour blocks of “talk.” Followed by another three-hour block of “talk.” And even some of them are recorded and reused. Many music stations no longer originate programming, subscribing instead to satellite broadcast operations in New York or California or Chicago. Much cheaper cost.

My wife often tells visitors to our home, “Don’t get him started.” Well, it’s too late. Check back in this same space in a few days and there’ll be more on the same sorry state of America’s broadcast “news.”

“Breaking news” as it were.

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