Friday, November 14, 2008

Local News Lives!

Local News
Simon and Garfunkel

There is a debate going on right now among members of the news media, academe, and others over whether we are seeing the death of local news. (Please see the previous blog “More or Less”.) Of course, there are others who are debating whether or when one of the three network newscasts will go dark. Still others believe all of the network news will morph into headlines, leaving the scraps for cable customers. If that becomes the case, can one really see some of the daily fare as true news? Take “The Daily Show” or “Countdown” for instance. Many viewers say they get their news—all the news they need—from The Daily Show. Even Paul Simon wrote, “I can get the news I need from the weather report.”

Well, Paul Simon’s assertion may fit my definition of local news. Sure, there is weather everywhere. Some of it is severe. Some of it was ordered up by the chamber of commerce. But the weather you care about is LOCAL, isn’t it? Is it going to rain here? When is it ever going to rain here? When is it going to freeze here? It is no small wonder that Jim Spencer and KXAN TV rule the ratings when storms are moving in.

Local news in its purest form may be defined as events or developments that interest or affect the greatest number of people in your audience on a specific day. Change any of these dynamics, and you change the definition of news, or what you thought was news may not be news any more. OK. I came up with definition when I was teaching. But, you can apply that rather academic definition on a good news day when making story choices.

What is news on a slow news day? The definition of news may be the answer to the question, “Who cares?” If nobody in your local audience cares, it isn’t news. How many times has a producer bellowed to a reporter, “Make me care!” when the reporter is sent back to revise a script. Another slow news day definition might be the answer to the question, “What are the people in your community talking about?” These all work.

The best philosophical answer to the question of what is news for me is simple: Truth.

When my son was in elementary school, he had to write a paper about his parents’ work. I was on the air then, so he knew what I did, but he had to ask me about my job. I told him that I had the best job in the world. I got to go to work and tell the truth every day. I still believe that.

With layers of promotions and various platforms, journalists are still in the business of truth telling.

Truth may not matter either, however. Perceptions of truth may be more powerful. (See the last presidential campaign.)

Neither truth nor perceptions matter, if they have no relationship to “place”, if they are not local. What happens in Charlotte, North Carolina doesn’t matter in Austin, unless there is some relationship, some connection. The storm in Charlotte, doesn’t matter in Austin. If, however, there is an upper level trough digging into the southwestern states that is going to drive arctic air into Austin this weekend, I care. I got the news that I needed from the weather report.

You could argue that you could get that same information from The Weather Channel or online. Yes, you could, but it is your local, trusted meteorologist who cares and makes you care.

Maybe the media and the users/consumers of their information should start viewing stories from the legislature and city council as having the same potential significance on our daily lives as the weather report. Nowadays, it is more difficult than ever to sort out the truth and its significance. Bailouts in the billions of dollars are beyond complex. But that bailout may be coming to a bank near you, perhaps a bank where you store your bucks. It may hit you and your readers/viewers/users/consumers like a blue norther. There is no disputing the local truth of a blue norther in Texas.

They’ll make you a believer in local news. And, that’s the truth.

© Jim McNabb, 2008

1 comment:

pat said...

"All politics is local." We connect at the most basic human level - something Ronald Reagan understood, milked to the nth degree, and bequeathed to today's political world, i.e., "Joe the Plumber."

One thing... got to admit, tho: I watch the hurricane reports for northern Florida, since my son lives there. That makes Florida kinda local for me!

Love the blogs, Jim!