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Simon Sez: The Media Thinks They're The Story

Spin makes you dizzy. The media spins faster than a top on steroids. Scott Simon stops the spins in Simon Sez.

 

If the late St. Louis Post Dispatch Editor Cole Campbell were alive today, he’d be laughing his you-know-what off.

Cole Campbell in 1995 saw 2012 before anyone else in his industry.  

His management at the paper in the late 90’s centered on “public-citizen journalism”. Translated, it meant letting the public into the newsroom with a voice what should be news. Interactive online media at the time was in its infancy. He saw what was coming.

For his effort, workers at the paper greeted him with, “How dare he invade us with this nonsense!” They resisted him with such vigor that the then-Pulitzer owned hierarchy showed him the door.

Maybe 20 percent of those workers in the story link above remain including close friends media writer Dan Caesar and Night Sports Editor Don Reed. The Pulitzers feeling the brunt of Campbell’s public involvement foresight - (translated, we’ve had enough of your liberal cheerleading - got out of the business.

I worked in mainstream journalism at that time, mostly in broadcast but with some newspaper work sprinkled along the way. I quietly kept my support of public journalism to myself, not wanting to feel the wrath of the establishment old-timers in my wallet. They’re now out too – of my wallet, my life and the public’s attention.

What I saw from my chair was people had great ideas for stories that impact people. My boss Dale Forbis, perhaps one of the five best radio news writers today in the U.S. saw it too. His mantra for us, “Tell me something new. Democrats supporting pro-choice or Republicans backing pro-life isn’t news. Ribbon cuttings too; that’s advertising. Tell people something that will impact them when they read, here or see it.”

For his effort, Dale now toils in online media but I assume that may be coming to an end because of the meddlers, who’ll be a featured in a future article. Simply put, the meddlers have messed it up. When was the last time you ever heard someone say something about radio news at the company coffee pot? Cue the crickets and occasional cow moo. The radio meddlers messed their bed.

 

Radio and television talk show hosts aren’t practitioners of news.

They're broadcast versions of newspapers op-ed section. Opinion is not news. Heck, local TV news isn't news any longer. Remember the recent viral TV video of the LaCrosse, Wi. anchor complaining about an email who wrote she was fat? Now we've got a TV newser in KC who says negative email depresses her!

Commit this to your memory the next time you wonder if something you heard or saw is true. Most of these hosts would be lost for a whole day trying to find their way around a government building trying to find publicly-available documents to prove their argument. That’s because most of their experience inside such structures is to pay taxes or take care of other personal sundry duties. Most would fail an open-book test on constitutional law but they sure talk like experts on it!

 

What’s amiss in St. Louis is public journalism isn’t very public.

We don’t have viral voices here. Kansas City has Tony Botello, one of the biggest online news bloggers in the United States. Oh sure, some will claim Dana Loesch was an online uber star. When was the last time you heard anybody reference Loesch as a leader in anything journalism? People quickly found out she talked Republican but didn’t act it, online or offline.  She doused her own fire. I’ve got my own first-hand issues with her too about her so-called conservatism. Her silence on Proposition N in 2009 proved it. Heck, even the Tea Party showed her the door.

We see polls and research that St. Louis lags the country in most things important except for the stuff that matters most, like Cardinals baseball, toasted ravioli and knowledge of exactly where all their friends went to high school.

By the way, I’m a proud graduate of DeSmet Jesuit High School, Class of 1974, the last of the school’s original four classes. Now you know. After all, it’s about being public.

Unfortunately, the lackluster and indifferent performance of St. Louis standard media (when was the last time you watched an entire 30 minute TV newscast or read the paper offline from front to back) has infiltrated online here.

 

Akin’s gaffe happened more than a month ago.

Tell me what’s been earth-shattering news locally since then?

So the next time you read or hear something important to you and not sure if it’s true or not and don’t see reference, pick up the phone (still a great tool because their voice mail is the recipient to your public journalism) or write and say, “And this came from, where?”

 

The good ones will tell you. The bad ones won’t.

Dan Gilmor coined a phrase that’s so on target the National Rifle Association should be awarding him a medal for accuracy. “The people formerly known as the audience are now the journalists.” And the inside journalists hate us critics. We’ve got them cornered. Sure, there are some great ones left like Robert Feder in Chicago. John Landsberg in Kansas City is excellent.

I told people for several years my days of media criticism were over. But just when I was out, they drug me back, because the total landscape isn’t getting better, online and offline.

That’s the topic of my next article. Thanks for reading. Stand tall. 

Scott Simon is the Executive Producer and sometimes chief dishwasher at ProVergent Media

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

flyoverland October 17, 2012 at 11:41 PM
The late John McCormick used to say, "and now you know, and via radio. Today, I hear radio stations reading three day old stories. With the centralization and automation of radio, stations do the bare minimum to satisfy the FCC licensing requirements and still make enough to pay the interest on the most recent leveraged buyout. Radio is suffering from an insane period when the multiples of earnings, which in the real world would be between three and five times earnings, we saw radio buyers often paying twelve times. So, they were like the home flippers who thought the good times would never end. Radio has been hit by the recession and competition from the internet. It used to be local. Now its a conglomerate. I'm not sure if any station other than KMOX actually sends reporters to cover news anymore. Radio is an infrastructure in search of a viable business model and for those of us who remember its halcyon days, it is sad. The real downfall of journalism has been the introduction of activist journalism where journalism becomes part of the story, or all too often, the story becomes part of a narrative which is derived from a political agenda, usually liberal. When I was trained as a journalist over 40 years ago, we were told it was unprofessional to be part of the story. We were told to cover the story objectively. Maybe that would be too boring for some today, but you have to admit things were a lot better when journalism was reporting and not activist cheerleading.
Scott Simon October 19, 2012 at 05:26 AM
flyoverland you nearly made me cry tonight referencing John McCormick. I worked with him for a bit at KMOX. One of my jobs before leaving for the evening was to print out the sports news of the day. The first timet, he called me in to criticize me - because I had printed it out in regular 12pt. type - and he said he couldn't read it that small. No one had told me to use a bigger font but I remembered to do it all the time and occassionally I would stick around until 1am when he would arrive. He was originally from Chicago and my late father remebered listening to him on WBBM. I shared that with him and he and I had gotten to be friends who liked to talk about the past. Not many people knew this, but John was an avid motorcyclist, probably into it before Sturgis became popular.

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