OLD NEWS & NEW NEWS

file8181298830552This past June the Washington Post reported on the fact that ABC’s World News Tonight surpassed NBC’s Nightly News in the ratings. It was big news. The networks care because they want to make more money and higher ratings means higher ad revenues from companies wanting to place ads. Higher ratings means more eyeballs watching ads.  More eyeballs means more money.

The focus of the article was how ABC did it. How ABC did it is good news for the rest of us.

THE DEATH OF NEWS

Just how did they beat NBC News? NBC was suffering from Brian Williams’ fake news reports. But ABC didn’t rely on that. They took a smarter approach – if smarter only by half. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/how-abcs-world-news-tonight-became-a-ratings-winner/2015/06/01/e88ea494-04af-11e5-a428-c984eb077d4e_story.html

The bottom line: ABC dumbed down the news.

Here is the first ABC World News Tonight broadcast of July 10, 1978. It’s clear that a tremendous amount of reporting work went into the broadcast. (You can also see a much younger Barbara Walters and Alan Derschowitz at one point, and even the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz in a coffee commercial).

As limited and deficient as it was, the broadcast at least had content and substance. Now it is less substantive with greater emphasis on celebrity and entertainment stories. Long gone are the days of Frank Reynolds in Washington, Peter Jennings in London, and Max Robinson in Chicago.

And the news covering the news ratings race (yes, that itself is news now) even tells us about…wait for it… “The Top 5 Hunks of ABC World News Tonight.”  http://worldofwonder.net/the-top-5-hunks-of-abc-world-news-tonight/

News, real news, investigative reporting by the majors is on life-support if not dead.

THE LOSS OF FAITH

Of all the newscaster on all the networks, I liked Peter Jennings the best. I met him once. I grew up watching Cronkite, Huntley & Brinkley, and the rest, but Jennings clearly seemed to be the best. He seemed to have a genuine familiarity with every place from which he was reporting and the most familiarity with every story on which he was reporting. The slant was liberal, but there seemed to be a genuine effort on his part to get the facts right, even if liberal blindness often led to leaving out some important ones.

The annual convention of The National Rifle Association met in Charlotte in May 2000. It is memorable to most because of a speech of the NRA’s President to the gathered assembly (particularly at 1:45):

I was at the convention and Heston’s speech really was powerful. At one point during the convention I had the opportunity to talk with him. I told him that it was a special pleasure to meet him not just because I admired his work, but because he looked like my father. He said, “I’ll take that as a compliment!” I replied, “It’s intended as one!”

Anyone ridiculing Heston ought to read Richard Dreyfus’ glowing tribute to him in August 2002 around the time he made public his problem with Alzheimer’s. Dreyfus was an anti-gun liberal but he recognized Heston’s amazing talent. http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2002/08/19/Commentary-Remembering-Charlton-Heston/85941029772860/.

I met Peter Jennings at the convention, too. As memorable as talking with Charlton Heston was, my conversation with Peter Jennings was more memorable in light of what I learned from him or, maybe better, about him.

The convention was very well done in about every way. Even the convention center was fitted out well. One of the things I remember most were the huge pictures draped throughout one of the large public lobbies of famous people who supported the Second Amendment and the NRA. There, for all to see, were Heston, Tom Selleck, basketball legend Moses Malone, and a host of others. I think Tom Clancey was up there, too. There must have been twenty of them. Sharp, successful, savvy, intelligent, you name it. Each one a respected leader in his field witnessing publicly to the value of the cause.

It was outdoors not far from the lobby that I met Jennings. He was interviewing a fellow attending the convention. Not surprisingly, the fellow happened to look like he had just sort of crawled out of the backwoods. In all fairness I don’t remember whether Jennings picked him out or he went up to Jennings, but it was a perfect set up for a liberal evening newscast.

After Jennings finished with the interview I went up to him. After offering some genuine compliments for his work – and they were genuine – I mentioned the men in the large pictures suspended in the convention lobby. I suggested that he might get those men together for a joint interview to discuss the gun issue. Such an interview with such accomplished individuals might help the public get a fuller perspective on the topic and get us to the truth on the issue of guns.

I was taken back by his response. He dismissed my idea and said something like, “I don’t think we can ever know the truth.” He was sincere. It was no line. He was serious. It was no ruse to mask liberal sympathies. He likened it to covering the Middle East. He said he had been there, covered it, and there were some things about which he didn’t think we could ever find the truth.

Now granted, functionally, he had a “truth” on the subject. It was probably the one that said the government should not trust that guy from the backwoods with a gun. But I appreciated his frankness. He readily acknowledged that he had a genuine epistemological problem at the core of his work. He was hardly fragile but he seemed to have a certain sadness about him.

NEW NEWS

The decision of ABC News and all the other networks and cable channels to move to more celebrity and entertainment oriented “news” will lead to their demise, at least as serious news sources.

What has emerged in their place over the recent years is a vast repository of far more and better sources of real news. One can get more news in 20 minutes online through Drudge headline links than in 24 hours in front of a television.

There are new reporters, too. Gone are the days of the standard “J-School” (Journalism School) for the aspiring journalist. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has one of the finest “J-Schools” in the country. This summer it changed its name. It’s now the UNC School of Media and Journalism. A faculty committee with input from other faculty, students and alumni/industry advisers explored more than 50 potential new names that would reflect what Chapel Hill would offer in light of the changes in the field. Some other universities dropped the word “Journalism” completely from their J-School names. The journalism landscape has changed significantly and universities are trying to keep up with the changes.  Long gone are the days when students wanted to be the next Walter Cronkite, Ben Bradlee, or news-breaking investigative reporter. Not many probably remember Woodward and Bernstein.  And “All the President’s Men”? Most students probably couldn’t name three members of President Obama’s cabinet, much less care whether his lieutenants are committing any crimes.

There are, however, new reporters emerging.  They are the investigative ones actually “speaking truth to power.” The Planned Parenthood scandal was exposed by 26-year old David Daleiden, executive director of the Center for Medical Progress. The Acorn scandal was exposed in 2009 by James O’Keefe of Project Veritas, then only 25 years old. Both of these were major news stories. Andrew Breitbart blazed new trails and Ben Shapiro is only getting started. There are other reporters out there such as Sharyl Attkinson who have been on the job for many years doing quality work. We need so many more like these.

The huge vacuum left by the failure of network and cable news will be filled by these kinds of reporters who are faithful to the craft and truly care about the facts.

LOCAL IS CRITICAL

The one area of news left to cover is valuable local news, local political news. It is not likely to be done by your typical reporter. There are just not that many people around who would have the interest to cover it and fewer willing to pay to have it covered. It will have to be done by the local enthusiast, the political enthusiast. Not an enthusiast for national politics, but for local politics.

Sooner or later the advocates of intrusive Federal and even State policies will find more and more ways to push them down to the local level.   Absent alertness and opposition by concerned citizens at the local level, those policies will make their way into the community life. Federal and State power will dictate every area of local life. And even those on county and city commissions want to take away liberties in the name of society’s great good.  The county or city commission might dictate whether you can rent your house out for the weekend through Airbnb and, if you can, what tax you will pay to do it. It might tell you whether you have to build a barn for your horse – because it cares more about your horse’s well-being than you do. It might tell you that a local ordinance restricts you from conducting a Bible study in your home.

Every county and city has a sensible citizen with his or her pulse on the politics. I met with such a person last week. It is no work for people like this to be “in the know.” It comes naturally to them. They care and they stay informed. They know what is coming before the local governing body, who stands what way on what issue, and when they are going to vote. And they know others in the know as well.

That person or a group of sensible individuals – or those who know the value of that information – needs to establish a website that makes such information easily accessible to like-minded people. The website also ought to cover critical information for the house and senate districts for the State government. Most Christians, “conservatives,” “libertarians” – call them what you like – those who want to live free from intermeddling statists – simply are not able to track down and keep up with this important information. They are hard at work doing their jobs and taking care of their families. But there are others for whom this is no work at all.

The information must be easily digestible in ten minutes time: what’s coming up, when, which public officials take which positions, and who you should call to make your position known. Providing phone numbers and email addresses of the government officials would be good, too. Having a good email alert list or network of concerned citizens would also be a good idea.

From such a website and through such an email network, important news will get out. A great deal of harm can be prevented and a great deal of good accomplished. Such local news may be the most important news in the years ahead. It will be critical in the next local and state elections. They are not far away.

If you are such a local news junkie, start a website or find someone who can help you do it. If you aren’t such a junkie but know someone who is, help him get the website started. If you don’t know such a person, find one.  Promote the website among your friends. Help develop a local email alert network. Start getting ready now for the upcoming votes and upcoming elections.

There are a great deal of things about which we do know the truth.  We ought to contend for them.  Liberty can be preserved with vigilance and action.  It is likely to be lost without them.

Comments

  1. Dear TPL, Insightful stuff. Thank you.

    Just as a minor and personal sideline, as far as the NRA is concerned, I was a member when you were born. But a few years ago, I dumped my membership and went to GOA (Gun Owners of America). When the NRA endorsed Harry Reid, I saw the short-sightedness and called NRA hq about it. The response to me was very rude and condescending. Talking to GOA hq, on the other hand, is like talking to your best friend’s mom.

    But thanks again for your obvious hard work on this blog.

    Norm

    Like

  2. Philip Pockras says:

    Excellent comments, particularly on local politics, Craig.

    Like

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