Don’t lump local paper in with national TVPublished 10:22am Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom
It irks me when people describe “the media” as a single-minded entity. I’ll tell you in a moment why, but first, this:
While media refers to any sort of tool to store and share information — books, scrolls, banners, paintings, film, vinyl records, tape cassettes, video cassettes, compact discs, Blu-ray, websites, brochures, billboards, scoreboards, chalkboards, television, radio, newspapers and so on, even your son’s doodles in class in his notebook — when people say “the media” they sort of mean mass media, the ones communicating on a large scale. But that would include everything from Hollywood movies to children’s books.
More specifically, when people say “the media,” they really mean the news media. They lump their local paper in with the cable TV news channels.
The fact is, there are loads and loads of news media.
There are more than 1,400 daily newspapers and more than 6,200 weekly newspapers in the United States.
As of 2011, there were 1,022 UHF commercial, 360 VHF commercial, 285 UHF educational, and 107 VHF educational TV stations in the United States, many of which have some form of news.
I know not all radio stations have news, but many carry at least a slice of news. As of 2011, there were 14,728 full-power radio stations. Of those, 4,778 were AM, 6,533 were FM, and 3,417 were educational FM.
There were 859 low-power FM stations and 2,172 low-power TV stations.
And then there are the five major TV networks, all with their own programming, much of which is news: CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and the CW. And there are cable television channels devoted to news: CNN, HLN, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC. And there are several regional cable news channels: Northwest Cable News, Texas Cable News, New England Cable News, NY1 and Pittsburgh Cable News Channel.
There are multiple national news magazines: Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The New Yorker, The Economist, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Atlantic — by my count, there are about a dozen circulating on a national basis. And that’s not counting sports news magazines such as Sports Illustrated, farm news magazines such as Iowa Farmer Today, business magazines such as Fortune and Forbes, pop culture magazines such as Rolling Stone and celebrity news magazines such as People and In Touch Weekly. All of them carry news, and there are too many to count.
And who knows how many podcasts, blogs and documentary films could be lumped into the news media, just the same?
So here’s my point: When someone gets upset and growls at “the media,” to my ears, it says they aren’t doing a very good job of being a discerning consumer of news.
After all, look at how many news outlets are out there. And thanks to the Internet, most of them have content available on a global basis.
If a viewer watches network and cable television all the time, then gets upset that they don’t cover what the viewer wants to see, that viewer shouldn’t blast “the media.” Get indignant at network and cable television instead.
Honestly, I wish newspapers did a better job of distancing themselves from TV news, especially the national TV news outlets. I don’t like it when someone lumps the Albert Lea Tribune in with a national network, as if we all behave the same way.
Figures from the Pew Research Center show how TV goes off the deep end when covering elections — turning them into horse races — while newspapers do a better job of providing readers with information about education, business, economics, health matters, foreign affairs and domestic affairs. The two formats are about even on government. And guess what? TV news is crazy for crime.
In other words, newspapers cover crime, but when calculated by percentage, TV dedicated more airtime to crime than newspapers dedicated newshole to crime. By covering all that bad news, TV news cut out a lot of other important news.
Now you know why dedicated voters are also dedicated newspaper readers. They like the full picture of the community.
And I don’t know how to quantify this, but professors teach it in journalism schools everywhere: Because TV is passive, it generally is harder for viewers to hold broadcasters accountable for what they say. It’s gone in a second, if you weren’t recording it. Newspapers are active. What we print, people can hold in their hand and bring it to us.
Despite more people being able to record news shows and how news segments often are online anyway, think about the difference that passive-active difference made in the cultures of the two work trades after decades and decades of it. TV people tend to get it on the air right away, even if the source is sketchy. Newspaper people tend to care more about being accurate before printing it, even if they get scooped. CNN’s blown coverage of a supposed arrest of a Boston Marathon bomber provides the latest example.
Sure, everyone makes mistakes. But which mistakes are they making? A typo or irresponsible journalism? Newspapers always win that debate. Newspaper media needs to distance itself from TV news media.
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s appears every Tuesday.