One of the many bad things that happen when you have managers with no background in news, making decisions about staffing levels in the news department -whether it’s print or electronic medium -is that you wind up with people completely unqualified for the task making stupid mistakes.
Case on point: the “April Fool” that the “news” announcers at Magnum Communications (12 radio stations scattered around Wisconsin) thought was real, and put on the air without checking.
Years ago, before news budgets were so severely slashed in the broadcast medium (particularly radio) there was a disgusting practice called “rip and read”. It referred to ripping a piece of news copy right off the Associated Press teletype and reading it on the air. No re-write, no scan for mistakes, just straight from the “news wire” to the air. In the digital age, there’s no teletype any more; the AP feed is digital, direct to the newsroom computer – in those few station clusters that still spend what it costs to have AP news delivered.
Rip and Read also refers to the process of ripping a story right out of the local newspaper and reading it on the air – no rewrite; no attribution (“The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting xxxx”); just outright theft of the newspaper’s product.
That’s what happened late last week when the Ontario County Line, a western Wisconsin weekly newspaper with a couple thousand circulation…ran its annual April Fool story. Karen Parker, who’s been the editor of the paper for three decades, does an April Fool story every year, and tries every year to write something even more absurd than the prior year, as a lesson to readers to be skeptical about what they read. That’s what she told Jim Romenesko, the veteran media critic who blogs at jimromenesko.com.
Parker’s joke this year was a story saying Disney had purchased the popular Elroy-Sparta Trail from the DNR. She told Romenesko Saturday afternoon “Oh my God, this thing just boomeranged all over the state. The worst thing is our radio stations around here don’t spend any money on reporting, so they just read our news. Magnum Radio has 12 stations and they all read the story as a regular news story. “
Suffice it to say the DNR was inundated with calls from people who said “say it ain’t so!”
It used to be that when you worked in a broadcast newsroom there were enough old hands around, who’d been burned enough times by making mistakes, to teach the youngsters about verifying information, being doubly certain that what they were going to report as news was accurate, and having a healthy dose of skepticism when they encountered a story about something as wild as Disney buying a state recreation trail.
Not now. All too often, it’s just some young person who wants to be on the radio, and the only open job is the “news job”, and they take it, just to get on the radio – with the hope of “advancing” to the high calling of “disc jockey”. Not all that long ago young men seeking a career in broadcast sports would apply for broadcast news openings, hoping that this “foot in the door” would eventually lead to an on-air sports job. Never mind that they had no journalistic or news training or experience whatsoever – it was their way in, for a shot at a sports reporting job.
I’ve said many times radio is dying the death of a thousand cuts. I know Dave Magnum, the owner of Magnum Broadcasting. He’s a responsible broadcaster. He was probably more embarrassed about this stupid mistake than the “news” people who committed it.
But it’s stuff like this that’s killing what’s left of radio.