McGuire on Media

Collections from my winter vacation

I’m back from my academic break. As promised, I will attempt to file every day.  We’ll begin with a few things I collected over break.

IT SAYS "MAKE NO LAW"

Eight deans wrote an op ed in the New York Times arguing the FCC "ought to treat a broadcast licensee’s commitment of resources to original local reporting on public affairs as a key factor in its decisions about regulatory issues." The deans continued, "Companies should be required to make a persuasive case that they will increase their commitment to local reporting if they get what they want — whether they aspire to own broadcast properties and newspapers in the same market; or, thanks to the onset of digital television, to turn every channel they control into several channels; or to expand their national market share in broadcasting or cable television."

I think the deans are wrong and, though I thought he assumed more than he should have, Harry Jessell, a TV Business columnist for Newsday, was correct when he argued against the deans. People like Jessell and me may take that "make no law" stuff too seriously, but do the deans or anyone else truly believe we should delegate fixing  the American media system to the government? Me, I’ll count on entrepreneurs, audiences and a sense of civic obligation to fix what ails media, and I want the government to stay the hell out of newsrooms and off the airwaves. And maybe I’m missing something,  but the bureaucracy required to make the dean’s plan works boggles this mind.

MYSTERIES EVERYWHERE

I just don’t understand why newspapers are dropping movie reviews and replacing them with wire reviews. Jacksonville is the latest and here’s the critic’s lament.  I have different motives, but I think it is nonsense to ignore the fact that a local movie critic’s take on a movie is local news. We’re all going to be better off when executives get a clue and realize that anything that lubricates local social discourse and helps people do the stuff they want to do is, in fact, local news.

I am mystified for another reason. I thought newspapers had "gotten" the Internet age and were all over social networking, crowd sourcing, wisdom of crowds, gaming etc. Newsroom leadership and business executives have been telling us the future is digital and watch newspapers roar. I am not even hearing a soft meow.

What better way to involve your community than with movie reviews?  A well-managed interactive conversation with local readers intensely interested in movies could use components of gaming with reward points and credits and readers could benefit from the movie expertise of fellow movie-goers to make their movie attendance decisions. Of course, the key to my sentence is that such an approach would have to be well-managed and well-moderated.  That would require person-power.

Pretty soon everybody is going to understand that newspapers’ failure to add or reallocate people to lead the community in these important conversations reveals the fraud behind the alleged move to local.  For too many papers the real goal is ravaging the news resources for the sake of the bottom line, not creating a livelier, more interactive newspaper for readers.

LET’S TAKE THE VICTORY AND SHOW HUMILITY

I couldn’t find the original piece this morning, but this blog makes the  essential point that after the Atlanta Journal Constitution won what appears to be the final round in the Richard Jewell case, the publisher of the paper said this confirms "that our reporting of the Centennial Olympic bombing investigation was fair, responsible and accurate.” Whoa! It’s take a breath time.

I like and respect the current news leadership of the AJC and I felt the same way about the people who led the newsroom at the time of the bombing. And, I am always pleased when our country’s legal system protects newspapers from libel findings.

My problem is I was on the streets of Atlanta, right outside an Olympic venue the afternoon the special edition of the AJC hit the streets and declared Jewell a suspect. I was with my 13-year-old son, who by that time in his young life had a firm hand on the eccentricities of his editor father so he did not flinch when I used some unseemly words to declare, "Ouch, they don’t have this nailed!"

In the years since, a lot of data have emerged about that decision-making process. The best is material put together by the Committee for Concerned Journalists. It is readable and powerful stuff and I use it as a guide in all my media ethics classes. I would argue pretty vehemently that a careful read will leave you with the impression that the AJC behavior was not libelous, but I think you’d also be a more than a tad uncomfortable calling it "fair, responsible and accurate."  That seems like a mighty big push and humility would be a far better course for the AJC at this point. That’s one man’s opinion. 

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