Guest Commentary: Broadcast Journalism Not Dead, Just Changing

Jul 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The evidence is everywhere. Broadcast journalism is on the ropes. A once-proud profession finds itself reeling from economic, social and technological changes. Television stations around the country are retrenching, firing reporters, anchors and producers, cutting back on enterprise reporting.
I watched a newscast recently from a market in which I once worked and saw an endless parade of shootings, accidents and fires. I was left with the impression that the fabric of this city was being torn apart, although the truth is that crime is actually down—this lack of perspective from a station that once prided itself on having a business reporter, a consumer reporter, an investigative unit and general-assignment reporters who actually developed sources to get stories.
At the recent NAB and RTNDA conventions in Las Vegas, I was struck by the number of people who thrust business cards at me with their name on top and a second line that read “consultant” rather than the call letters of a station or the name of a network.
Some actually are consulting, but others had that shell-shocked look that told a sadder story: They are out of work after a career in broadcast journalism. They were eager to hear how I had crossed the digital divide, as if somehow there was a secret code that eluded them.
After WNBC-TV in New York announced in the spring that it was radically redesigning itself from a traditional station to a producer of content for multiple platforms—not by adding jobs, but by retraining existing staff as much as possible—there was a paroxysm of outrage in some corners. This is just about saving money, some asserted. It’s about getting rid of high-priced talent, an agent I know claimed. It’ll be the end of serious journalism, was the portent of an acquaintance who has been predicting the end of journalism since the days when Ronald Reagan was president.
But there’s a revolution taking place in how people consume news and information, and it’s not always happening inside the four walls of the television station. There’s a revolution in user-generated content, in social applications—some of the best coverage of the recent China earthquake came from people on the scene filing constant reports through text messaging on Twitter.
In the last year, since becoming a leader of a digital media company, I have met a steady stream of smart, multitalented, mostly—but not exclusively—young, video storytellers. Our producer is our writer. Our host shoots and edits. Our head writer stars. Our comedic talent produces. Our editors write and shoot. Some are better at one skill than at others, but all have embraced the digital “totality” of visual storytelling.
These are people who are excited about the future and won’t allow themselves to be pigeonholed. When they and their peers think about their work—and reaching audiences—they don’t have the traditional networks and stations in mind. They’re working on documentaries for video Web sites, getting their own financing in some cases and looking for interesting projects in others.
As for the WNBC plan to remake itself, I have no insight into the true motives of the 30 Rock executives who hatched this ambitious plan. And I can’t predict how effective its execution will be. But I am heartened that an important network believes so strongly in the value of local journalism that it’s willing to make an important investment in its future.
I am not naïve, and I’m more than aware of the twin pressures of decreasing salaries and increasing responsibilities. Left unchecked, this trend would have journalism welcome in the future only those able to withstand those pressures—the young, the single, the childless. And journalism would be the poorer without practitioners who have some age, some life experience and ample perspective with which to grace their work.
But I remain optimistic. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something brand-new emerges from the experiments that WNBC and other stations are embarking on—a mix of strong anchors, energetic video journalists, reporters with a craving for unearthing local stories, social networking and use of new communication technologies?
I am excited about where journalism is heading. There is so much more of everything available to everybody: good journalism, great pictures, mindless junk—you name it.
Just in my corner of the digital world, I’ve worked with smart and talented folks who’ve come up with Webby Award-winning environmental Web shows that don’t take themselves too seriously, a movie review show that taps into the collective wisdom of those watching Hollywood’s latest releases, a TV recap show that employs a comic actress/fan who has as many personae as Tracy Ullman.
We’re learning as we go along. We’re bundling together networks of station sites and experimenting with business plans and revenue-sharing models.
For those who grew up in what they thought were “the good old days,” it’s time to get over it. We have to stay relevant and interesting and on the edge of technology and society, and we must always remember: At some not-too-distant point in the future, these are going to be the good old days.
Mark Effron is chief operating officer of TitanTV. He was formerly an executive with MSNBC and Post-Newsweek stations.


  1. Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers,

  2. Interesting layout on your blog. I really enjoyed reading it and also I will be back to read more in the future.

  3. You make blogging look like a walk in the park! I’ve been trying to blog daily but I just cant find writing material.. you’re an inspiration to me and i’m sure many others!

  4. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. 🙂

  5. Hey how are you doing? I just wanted to stop by and say that it’s been a pleasure reading your blog. I have bookmarked your website so that I can come back & read more in the future as well. plz do keep up the quality writing

  6. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  7. Hey how are you doing? I just wanted to stop by and say that it’s been a pleasure reading your blog. I have bookmarked your website so that I can come back & read more in the future as well. plz do keep up the quality writing

  8. Great wordpress blog here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you! take care and see you soon

  9. Dreamin. I love blogging. You all express your feelings the right way, because they are your feeling, focus on your blog it is great.

  10. Great blog!! You should start many more. I love all the info provided. I will stay tuned 🙂

  11. Interesting thoughts here. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us all. It’s people like you that make my day 🙂

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)