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News Directors Are Under Fire From All Sides

Apr 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As the Radio-Television Association convenes this week at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas, the men and women who run local news operations find themselves confronted by unprecedented challenges, ranging from the expensive conversion to high-definition broadcasting to a limp ad market to the cost and complexity of covering a foreign war.
Adding to the pressures, this all comes at a time when many local TV news operations have been threatened with budget cuts, and a time when consolidation has created duopolies in several large markets, resulting in significant layoffs.
We sympathize with the plight of local and recognize that they have performed heroically, providing a vital public service under far less than ideal conditions.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about news as a business, about the need to make profits, about the bottom-line mentality of the increasingly large and distant corporate owners of these stations. Recent events have brought home the fact that news is still about public service and serving the audience. It is often the who are caught in the middle of these conflicting agendas.
Now is not the time to sell the news side short or to compromise on the quality of journalism. And now is not the time, even under severe pressure, for the men and women in local news operations all over the United States to compromise their journalistic ideals or step back from doing their absolute best work.
And they have been doing their best work. Among other indications, the car chases have been pushed from the lineup, replaced on local broadcasts by news that matters.
The war, it turns out, is a local story, as well as one of international importance. In market after market, stories have surfaced that matter to the people of that area, stories that can only be handled by a local news operation. The war is personal. Local men and women have gone off to fight, and in some cases have been killed or captured. Every community has been touched and each market has its specific stake in the war, whether in New York, where the risk of terrorism is especially high, or in California, where the defense industry has long been a staple.
News, we are reminded, is more than something to fill airtime and sell ads. Never has the vital role of local and national broadcast news been more clear.
The corporate parents who control the purse strings of local affiliates would be wise to use this opportunity to take a close look at the real value of those stations’ news departments. Now would be a good time for those large media concerns to step up to the plate and give a vote of confidence to the on the front lines in communities across America, supporting them with funding, a few kind words and a secure position in long-range corporate plans.