Real news lost

Author: admin

Most of us have little “tics” that infuriate when we see or hear them. I’ve got one. I’ll spell it out. It’s only five words.

“…..ACCORDING TO A NEWS RELEASE.”

If you’re a daily reader of newspapers or viewer of TV in Idaho, Oregon or damned near any other place, those five words are prominently displayed in many stories. Way too many.

“……According to a news release” Just what do those five words mean? Why are they so prominent and used so often? Let’s chat about that.

Those words mean someone emailed – or otherwise informed – the media what they want you to know about this or that. Which may or may not be the whole story. The words pop up most often when used in place of a reporter being assigned to what the story is about.

A glaring example. A few days ago, the Arizona Republic – Arizona’s largest newspaper – had a “story” about a border patrol officer who “died in the line of duty, according to a news release” That was it. The last sentence: “The Border Patrol provided no further information about the officer’s passing.”

WHAT? “Provided no further information?” Where the hell are the reporters? How the guy died is the guts of the story. If he hadn’t died “in the line of duty,” there’d be no story. What killed him? How he died IS the story!

Reporters used to physically check in daily at the local cop shop, meetings at city hall, fire departments, county buildings. They got to know county commissioners, mayors, secretaries (often the most reliable news source) – even janitors. They developed stories. Stories that gave readers/viewers more insight and information about the goings-on. And, sometimes, reporters found out facts that often led to a better story. Or even a “scoop!” I did it for years.

Newspapers, radio and TV seldom do that now. They’ve been victimized, replaced or largely downsized by availability of the Internet and (un)social media. “Stories” that took time to develop now blare out, often without the real `meat` of the “information.” Too often without all the facts. Like the dead Arizona officer.

Newspapers and broadcast operations have “slimmed down.” They’ve even got “reporters” who work from home! Using the phone and the I-net. Too often, they don’t ‘on site’ to get the story. That’s why you see “…..according to a news release.” Sometimes, not even rewritten.

Most radio/tv operations and newspapers aren’t owned by local folks anymore. They’ve become “pawns” in the news business. Too often, they’re owned by large corporations that don’t give a damn about local news and how important it really is. Accountants – read “bean counters” – do spreadsheets on profit and loss. There are, after all, investors who want a good rate of return.

Some guy, sitting on his butt in Florida, doesn’t give a damn that a United Airlines jet may have ‘crashed near Caldwell, Idaho, killing 254.’ A crash causing slimmed down local news outlets to work staff overtime, sending “feeds” to national news bureaus, doing real on-scene reporting. Temporarily “blowing” budgets. The Florida guy’s only interest is “bottom line.” Return on investment. Nothing else.

So, you too often get “…..according to a news release.” Faster, cheaper, easier – and less expensive – than being staffed to go out and get the rest of the story.

The loss of “beat reporters” means, for instance, when city/county budgets are set, your taxes are spent – and maybe raised – and you don’t know the details. That loss also means things happen in courthouses, city halls, ‘cop shops,’ fire halls and businesses along Main Street that you never hear about. Real news.

The irony here is we live at a time in which we’re inundated with information. More than ever before. So much so that we have to search for what we want/need to know. But, with the cutback or elimination of most local news staffs, who find and report real local news, we’re less informed about what’s going on – less informed about what’s happening right around us.

You can thank Ronnie Reagan for much of this. During his presidential term, he appointed a new batch of people to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC appointees promptly changed previous ownership restrictions on broadcasters and other media. You could subsequently buy as many radio/TV stations as you could afford. One corporate outfit eventually owned 12-hundred radio stations. Corporate. Investors. Absentee ownership.

The requirement that stations operate “in the public interest” was whittled down to meaning dropping a lot of local – or basically any – news. Staff cuts in the thousands hit newsrooms. Many stations now have no news at all.

Awash in information. Too often deprived of real information – local news reporting in our communities. We’re told, in too many instances, only what someone or some agency of government wants us to know.

“…..according to a news release.”

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