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'News By Committee' Dumbs Down Journalism


Oh, it’s the beginning of the holiday season so I am full of positive feelings and nice thoughts so it’s time to give credit where credit is due. Maybe I’m just full of turkey, but either way optimism is in the air.

Spending 30 years in local TV news has made me pretty cynical about the reporting. Much of what I have seen over the years has been documented here on BigJournalism and I have barely started getting into the silliness I have witnessed. The stories designed to scare women 18-54 into watching the next newscast and the foolish “investigations” into who might be stealing your recyclables from your curb before the refuse men get to it. Yes, the November ratings period just ended and local TV lost its mind once again. Not to fear, the February “book” is right around the corner.

Occasionally local TV news does a story that deserves recognition and when those moments happen they should be acknowledged. Jonathan Humbert of KLAS TV in Las Vegas uncovered a “clean energy” bust in Nevada that cost taxpayers 8 million dollars. Stimulus dollars were used on the project and there were high hopes that wood chips would provide green energy, rehabilitate prisoners and – I’m guessing somewhere in there somebody professed that this project would help Save The Planet.

Of course, it did none of these things and this fraud could’ve/should’ve been spotted from the start.

We’re all getting tired of supposed good intentions of those in charge costing us millions. Those responsible for the debacle are no longer in power and taxpayers bite the bullet once again. Oh well, who would’ve guessed this would’ve been another green energy fraud? Hey, anybody seen bio-fuels lately?

Nevada is a hot bed for green energy snake oil salesmen right now with wild claims of geothermal, solar, wind and wood chips. Yep, wood chips. Watch the story. This is the same state where Harry Reid shut down two coal-fired power plants and cost Nevada hundreds of jobs and in the process we lost real, honest-to-goodness energy that could actually power a grid.

Humbert is a solid, young reporter who is trusted by his station to do his job and he rarely disappoints. Unfortunately, he is an aberration in the business these days. Most often a dozen people can have their hands in stories – everybody from the marketing folks, to consultants, to management, to half a dozen different producers, writers, to the guy who fills the Coke machine (actually, TV stations would do well to consult the guy who fills the Coke machine – but what does he know, how many broadcasting awards has he won?) I’ll take Humbert with a great photojournalist like Alex Brauer over a dozen consultants any day.

Yes, there was a time in the business when reporters would show up with an idea, take it from inception to production, to airtime and go home at night with a smile and do it all over again the next day. For years I worked in that environment and was able to attack wrongdoing when I found it. The story linked here was one of many that I investigated, reported and then was trusted by management to put on air.

[youtube rPl85i0xP4M nolink]

I also witnessed the change in the business to news story by “committee” and the result has not been good. Wonder why those ratings keep falling?

Since this is a positive column, I will keep it that way. There are reporters out there who can find the story and report the story. The best stories really are that simple. Viewers know the difference. They can tell when a story is manufactured by consultants to fit a certain demographic that suits the “Grey’s Anatomy” lead in programming. Yes, you can over-think the business and that has become the standard.

Since I also worked briefly as a consultant in TV news (my foray to the “dark side”) I will tell you what I told management: Hire reporters who can do the job and get out of the way. Real reporters want that. Usually, I would charge for this advice, but since I’m feeling generous …

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