Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Media Intervention

Now that the dust has settled, perhaps we can all look back more objectively at the furor over Brian Wilson's comments on WSPD about education in this country. 

We all watched Tom Troy and The Blade's painfully obvious efforts to paint the man and the radio station into a corner in order to get either his resignation or firing. We watched as well as the subsequent vindication unfolded based on the work done by the Toledo Free Press to reveal the facts of the case and the failed machinations of the daily paper. We even watched as Mr Troy wrote a response to the TFP coverage, published on January 19th, which did little to vindicate him or settle his part of the controversy.

Now anyone who has listened to Brian Wilson over time or read the Blade know that there is no love lost between the two (nor between Mr Wilson and Mr Troy). As someone who was involved intimately with the daily newspaper business for over thirty years, who is acquainted on a personal level with Brian Wilson and WSPD, and who listened to the entire show in question; I found the entire situation both fascinating and sad.

How could a newspaper that condemned out-of-context soundbites and a rush to judgment in the case of Shirley Sherrod find itself at the heart (if not behind) this case? How much further will management (and ownership) permit the continued blurring of the lines between objective reporting and editorializing? How many more setbacks can daily newspapers in Toledo and elsewhere across the country suffer to their credibility and survive as a reputable source for news?

For there is a relationship between talk radio and newspapers. Personalities like Brian Wilson are dependent to some extent upon daily newspapers for a part of the basic basic research required for them to do their job. Show preparation to fill three hours a day is an arduous task, and commenting on the events of the day usually requires that someone first report on them. Whether the source is a column by a well-known writer, an internet news website link, or something from a newspaper website itself; the ultimate source material for much of the news today remains the research and reporting of daily newspapers.

Now it's obvious to anyone paying even occasional attention to the goings on in the newspaper industry today, that such organizations continue to suffer from declining circulation and revenue, reduced reporting staffs, and desperate and often inconsistent business plans to cope with their current downward business trends. This decline should be no cause for celebration for their detractors however, as a co-dependency between newspapers and other forms of media exist whether they like it or not.

When was the last time that you watched a TV news broadcast that did not reference at least one newspaper story? When was the last time that you listened to a radio show (nationally syndicated or local) that did not do the same? When was the last time that you watched cable news pundits get through an hour without talking about something a newspaper said? Without newspapers as source material, these now more timely an relevant media sources would be hard pressed to fill their programs.

OK, that establishes a dependent relationship, but not co-dependency.

One need only look at the recent elimination and consolidation of newspaper titles and production sites, the switch in some cases to online-only products, and the downsizing of product and reporting staffs at these former print properties to understand that they are facing doom as a means of communicating the news. 

The constant reference by other media forms of material in daily newspapers may be the best advertising that they could receive, and may allow them to retain the relevance in the marketplace of ideas that they still deserve. Without being used and referenced for the source material that they provide however, I fear that their decline would be even more dramatic and precipitous.

Daily newspapers may not like it, but will eventually have to understand that much like the free standing insert advertisements that they once looked down upon, these other media are now an integral part of the effort required to promote their continued existence. Other forms of media like radio and TV likewise need to understand that without the labor on source material done by daily newspapers to repeat and comment on, their jobs would be much more difficult than they already are.

While anything but a believer in the philosophy of "can't we all just get along", I cannot help but think that perhaps some form of Media Intervention is in order to tell both that while they aren't required to like each other (and in fact it's a lot more interesting when they don't), they do in fact have to recognize that they need each other; if for no other reason than to know who to demonize.

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