Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Media and Democracy examines SoCal journalism

Tracy Manzer and Keith Higginbotham had the opportunity to speak at last Saturday's Local Media, Democracy & Justice media summit, addressing the repercussions staff cuts have had on local journalism, and the ability of newspapers to adequately serve their readers. I asked them to share their thoughts on the summit, here's what they had to say:

A lot of people have been asking me how Saturday's forum, hosted by Common Cause, at Cal Tech went. I have some materials I'll bring into the newsroom this week, but in a nutshell it was very interesting and at times a tough crowd.

It was attended by about 150 people (my estimate), most of whom focused on what they don't like in the media and how to change or lobby it.

Keith and I were the only working journalists to speak in any of the break-out panels (there were several working journalists in the audience). Most of the people are extremely liberal in their political views and feel the media (re: Rupert Murdoch and Fox News) are far too right wing and that the rest of the media has become lazy and complacent. I agree with that and most of the other points as well.

However, like extreme right-wingers, a few of the extreme left-wingers in the crowd thought there is some nefarious plot in it all while most of the time (at least with the PT, in my opinion) I think it boils down to a matter of not having enough people on staff, media agencies hiring college kids with no experience because they're cheaper, and not giving staff enough resources ... which means the readers/viewers get only surface level coverage of issues that require in-depth analysis. (Rupert and his cohorts would be the exception of course.)

A lot of the conference was geared toward TV and radio, not as much print, and particularly the FCC's total failure since the 1980s to require some level of standard and fairness (which I agree with whole-heartedly).

But it was good to hear the criticism and see what needs to be addressed. These people are or were newspaper readers who have turned to NPR, PBS and niche publications because they feel mainstream journalism has failed. There was a great deal of talk about the LA Times and what many of these people described as the death of a once fine journalistic institution. I think if a newspaper, any newspaper, could address some of their concerns the publication would be rewarded with many loyal subscribers. This was not an audience fooled by or wanting sound-bites, they want substance; which is what newspapers are supposed to provide. It was nice to see the audience is out there if we can deliver the material.

I think and I hope Keith and I were able to give a better idea of what down-sizing means and how it affects not just our industry, but our industry's ability to live up to its mandate of representing the public interest, which is crucial for democracy -- which, of course, was the theme of the conference.

Vicki and Lesley were there and talked to a lot of people about grass-roots support of our industry, and I think they made a lot of good contacts.

So that's it. Hope it answers some or all of the questions I've been hearing. I do need to extend a very special thank you to Chad Greene who was the only LB person (and not even a PT person anymore!) to trek out to Pasadena for the forum. Chad is our hero.

-- TManzer and KHigginbotham

No comments: