Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An answer for the FCC

"Frankly, I think we should focus on tackling the very live challenges that face broadcast news in the 21st century: where have all the journalists gone and why? Whatever happened to the kind of fact-filled investigative journalist that held the powerful accountable? Why do so many important stories go untold?"

-FCC Chairman Michael Copps

Oh, this is one of those quotes that made me wanna pick up the phone. For the answer, we need a little history lesson.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, TV was free. In New York we had six channels. Plus a rotating antenna on the roof so we could pick up blacked out Giants games from Hartford. Cable TV? Satellite? Paying to watch television? Insane!

The "pie" as the advertising pot is often called, had six slices. Stations were cash cows. You could own a station, literally do nothing, let your pet cat run the place, and make a fortune.

Then, the story goes, a little company called HBO got a cable license, and the FCC supposedly shrugged. Somewhere, a golden goose shuddered. Somewhere, the baker of said pie got out his knife and cut off another slice.

Oh, yeah, back in the 1980s we routinely covered stories shoulder-to-shoulder with radio reporters. Have any of you working today seen a radio reporter lately? Hmmmm. Well, back then the FCC made some nice changes that allowed companies to own every damn station in town. So every one of those radio newsrooms consolidated down to one. And then when syndicated radio became popular, they disappeared. A whole bunch of good journalists unfairly described as having "a good face for radio" found themselves unemployed, not telegenic enough for television.

Cable grew, and then the "pizza pie" satellite dish arrived. (The irony of the pie would impress Edgar Alan Poe.) For a hundred bucks you could have a few hundred stations. The baker threw away his knife, turned the pie into cobbler, and handed everyone at the table a demitasse spoon.

When the pie got subdivided the golden goose keeled over and died. Along with a whole bunch of newsroom jobs. And when the beancounters declared that a reporter could do the job of two people, a whole bunch of journalists fled the business or were forced out.

Now newsrooms operate with skeleton crews, doing five times as much news as we did 20 years ago. Because it's cheaper to have a news staff produce more news than to buy a syndicated show.

Back to the FCC guy's original question: you wanna know where all the journalists have gone? They're still out there. Most of them just aren't working in television. They left because of decisions made by bureaucrats without a creative bone in their body.

Go count your beans. Enjoy your pie. What's left of it.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said Grape. And I'm glad you got a Giants reference in on the eve of football season. Big game Sunday! Love the blog.