Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Where Are All The Reporters?

I didn’t think the day would ever come that big-time national media would be quoting from and citing the National Enquirer as a source, but that day is here. It actually arrived some time ago, when the grocery check-out line publication broke the story about John Edwards’ dalliance during his failed Presidential campaign.

Now, with the Enquirer’s story about Al Gore’s alleged groping of a masseuse, the tabloid has joined the ranks of the mainstream media.

This has got to be a pebble in the shoe of every reporter at every other news outlet in America. The unthinkable has happened: again, national TV networks and huge national newspapers are following the Enquirer’s scoop.

Just a year ago, in the untimely death of Michael Jackson, it was the lurid website that had the breaking news and had the scoop on developments before anybody else. Remember the first national news stories about Jackson’s death – with network anchors “hedging their bets” on their break-ins, heavily attributing the story of the pop star’s death to the website, just in case it wasn’t true?

To me, the more interesting question is, why have media like the Enquirer and TMZ moved from “gossip mongers” to breaking real, actual, hard news stories?

Let me suggest one possible answer: the “mainstream media” have laid off so many news professionals in the past two years that they’re missing stories, or simply don’t have the personnel to track these stories down.

Far-fetched? Consider the ranks of news people in our fair city. Madison TV has lost so many experienced news reporters in the past few years it’s hard to put a count to it. Madison Newspapers Inc., which publishes the State Journal and The Capital Times, has shed so many actual news-gathering positions that the two staffs, once loudly touted as “separate”, have now merged, and by-lines from traditional “Cap Times” reporters now appear in the State Journal and vice-versa. Isthmus has not escaped the trend, either.

And please, don’t even get me started about radio news in this market. A couple of “seasoned veterans” are left, and the rest are bright, eager young folks, but who really have no depth of knowledge about the community and have not yet developed a sense for tracking down real news.

I know, I’m hopelessly biased. My wife is one of the many veterans who left TV news, and Mid-West threw me under the bus back in ’08. Just between the two of us, that’s over 40 years of institutional knowledge about Madison news that’s gone and hasn’t been replaced.

So, welcome to the new age of media: an age where grocery store tabloids and lurid celebrity websites are now mainstream media.


  1. Another in the long, long, line of "symbol over substance" markers...

    ...headlined by the Speechifier-in-Chief, who is utterly incapable (or utterly unwilling) to fix the Gulf mess (e.g.)

  2. In our once-bustling newsroom you could now practice surfcasting with a shark hook and not imperil anyone. Whole areas of our coverage - things that once commanded pages or even sections, not just single stories - are no longer even considered. There's no one to assign and no money to support the coverage.

    Of course the fact that Al Gore's accuser, Molly Hagerty, was demanding a $1 million payday before she would tell her tale may have had something to do with the fact that traditional media passed on the story.

    The Enquirer, well-monied as ever, have always been aware of what Don Henley finally had the audacity to put into a song about the news business ...

    "We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing
    "When it's said and done, we haven't told you a thing
    "We all know that crap is king, give us dirty laundry"

    If there are news stories to be broken, it is increasingly going to fall to webloggers to break them. At that point the mainstream media will glom on and try to pretend they knew it all along.


    Memo to Dad29 ... That gratuitous anti-Obama gibe was a disappointing and inappropriate comment, as snide and supercilious as it was foolish and off topic. You demean yourself.

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  4. I'm still upset that you and Glen are no longer on the airwaves.

    I have to grit my teeth every time the term "News Director" is used at your former station. Equally annoying is the pretense of a News Department. I can read the paper all by myself, thank you. I don't need it read to me by a faux "news director."

    News analysis, don't even get me started on that topic.

    Glad to have found your blog.