Monday, April 2, 2012

This is What Happens When You Fire All the REAL News People

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

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.


  1. How is that any different than the Cap Times' John Nichols being duped by Konopacki's bogus Steve Nass press release?

    Except that John is the associate editor of the Cap Times and "the author of seven books on politics and the media. He writes about electoral politics and public policy for The Nation magazine, and is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times."

    Oh yeah, and a graduate of Columbia University's j-school. And nobody ever dares edit or question the Writings of Comrade John.

    1. John Nichols' case is WORSE, by far. He is an experienced columnist and writer, and his lapse of judgment in his eagerness to make the R's look bad is inexcusable. He should have known better.

      John Nichols does not get a pass. And there are a lot of people, Anon, who question the writings of Comrade John, and I'm one of them. As, of course, are you.

    2. Ya know you have a valid point but the "Comrade" name calling is totally unnecessary & nullifies it...

  2. And nobody ever dares edit or question the Writings of Comrade John.

    Really? 'cause it sounds like you just did...

  3. Sorry. I should have specified that no one at The Cap Times seems to dare to edit or question Comrade John. Outside in the real world, yes, he provokes plenty of head-scratching.

    Which appears to be how the story went up online without anybody saying, "Hey, John, did you call Nass or Ryan about this?"

    Or, "Hey, John. What about you being one of the featured speakers at all these recall rallies and then you writing columns about them?"

  4. the "Comrade" name calling is totally unnecessary

    You've never talked with John Nichols in person, have you?

    'cause he actually does greet people by calling 'em "Comrade"...tho, he uses it as a term-of-endearment, which the original poster may not have been doing.

  5. PP has discerned my original intent. I meant no disrespect but simply used John's own preferred term of endearment, as so many of us who frequent Ancora have been privileged to be called.

  6. This conversation seems to have gotten off the original subject. Suffice it to say, as a personal friend of Karen Parker and a subscriber to The County Line, we have come to expect something wild and crazy from her come each April 1st. I rolled on the floor laughing when I heard how stirred up everyone was about Karen's article. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a small town paper with such an intelligent and witty editor.

    1. The intent of the post was to bemoan the state of radio "news" in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation. Karen Parker is a gem. Long may she write....and long may she poke innocent fun at her readers.

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