Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There Is Still Hope

Toward 2010

Another talented, top-notch friend is leaving the broadcast news business at the end of the year for a more secure, and possibly a more fulfilling, position in academia. I suppose that means that there may be a job opening at a Texas TV station for somebody else, and that may also be good news. That in a nutshell sort of characterizes 2009 in communications.

Media is in flux. That’s the answer I gave in a discussion during Mass Communications Week at Texas State this fall. Media—all media—are in a state of flux. That’s good and bad news at the same time. For example: NBC’s decision to let Jay Leno have a one-hour show, five days a week right before local news is bad news for local NBC affiliates. It’s good news for other stations in the market, such as KEYE TV (CBS) because, the move forced people to sample other news at 10 O’clock. It also gave viewers an hour to watch programs that had recorded. As I said recently, however, I think that Jay is also in flux. Affiliates won’t put up with this for long.

That leads to another, larger issue. If the NBC Universal/Comcast goes through, it will be the next big step in the migration of network programming away from local TV stations. Lots of programming is already available on and It could also be the beginning of a rebirth of quality programs.

Of course, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, isn’t operating in the Austin area. Instead, we get the second largest cable company, Time Warner. It will be interesting to see if TW will work out its retransmission deal with Fox or if Fox will disappear from Time Warner January 1, 2010. Time Warner spun-away AOL this year, making their bottom line even better. Will that translate into TW being a better cable company? I doubt it.

Meantime, satellite providers Dish and Direct TV reap the benefits while AT&T’s U-Verse and Grande Cable keep building out their coverage neighborhood by neighborhood. Further, Apple wants to start up subscription TV programming over the Internet. Apple’s idea won’t replace live broadcasts like football games yet, however.

Further, the so-called “digital revolution” may actually benefit viewers more and more in the year to come if networks and cable companies continue feuding. Some stations, such as KXAN TV (NBC) still haven’t made full use of their side channel. Further, LIN TV’s KBVO TV, formerly KXAM TV in the Hill Country still cannot be seen by most in the Austin area. Until KBVO is available in Austin, the move to make it a separate station, no longer rebroadcasting KXAN, will continue to confound me.

Where radio is concerned, KGSR FM (Emmis) switched frequencies to 93.3 from 107.1. Now, the station is attempting to enhance its coverage area in Austin and improve its numbers while 107.1 has become Spanish language broadcasting.

Recognition of the growing Spanish speaking audience and culture in Austin is another change that will only expand in 2010. Many of the TV digital side channels are now devoted to Spanish programming. KEYE .2 and is also doing local news in Spanish with Fred Cantu as its anchor. Cantu started in Austin doing radio news in Spanish before moving to TV decades ago.

Many, however, for personal and professional reasons, however are leaving “the business” behind. Some are going into retirement. Some are choosing newly created opportunities in cyberspace. Some are being laid-off or, better, bought out. With the loss of these pros we, the audience, lose their perspective along with their talents.

At the same time print publications are still shutting down or cutting back on when they go to press. So far Austin seems to be escaping these sad developments, but I hate to see “Editor and Publisher” magazine go away.

In the national broadcast media this year, we’ve seen increased splintering and polarizing, and it is reflected in the Congress. Sometimes, I just want to grab some of these politicians and pundits by the face and ask them to recognize truth when they see it. The nation has been beaten down by cynicism and negativism—particularly the politics of “No”. Viewers, readers, and users of the media seem to be consuming only those thoughts, positions, and beliefs that reinforce their pre-existing notions.

Mainstream media is in flux too. ABC’s World News Tonight debuted its new main anchor with flashy and fresh opening graphics Monday, December 21st after the retirement of Charles Gibson. Diane Sawyer turned 64 December 22nd. So, one might wonder how long she will warm the chair. For the most part, meantime, the networks continue pursuit of truth, but it’s hard when there are so many voices screaming hyperbole in the marketplace of ideas. I just want to repeat, “Come, let us reason together.” As an idealist in the mid-1960s I majored in Communications believing that it would lead to peace. Call me na├»ve, but I still believe.

I have a sticker that says “Hope” on the back of my truck. It’s not political. It’s an ideal. We must at the interpersonal level communicate hope and turn away from those who sneer. Hope is at the foundation of any economic stimulus. Hope will help heal the hurts. Hope with love and faith can end wars.

Best hopes and wishes for us all in 2010.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

Our only hope is in Jesus Christ - not phony politicians.

Anonymous said...

I'm worried there is a growing wave of those who don't care enough about things political or civil in our world. The lack of interest in voting is one sign and another is the slipping ratings for news programs and even those have questionable value to their content. Even the once unbiased news biz has become ugly with it's pairings of politics to pundits. Very public bashing of "the other side" is more and more common and the ugliness of the battle is driving already skeptical viewers away.

This country has serious issues with the quality of it's people. Greed and selfishness are as common now as if it's some kind of recipe for success. When people take this road, they care less and less for those around them and those of us in the news business become less relevant.

Maybe a weakening economy will help people realize the need to care for more than themselves.

My concerns for the news business are great but my greater concern is for the downfall of the family, marriage, ethics, respect for those basic laws of God and this list seems to grow each year.

Regardless of what your view of God is like, it's important that act a lot less like our current selves and more like what God prescribes.

Jim, keep up the great blog, God Bless, Merry Christmas and I look forward to reading and sharing here in 2010.

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Levie Isaacks said...

How about reinstating the "Fairness Doctrine" to electronic media. Eliminated by the Reagan administration. So both sides of a story can appear. Levie Isaacks formally of KTBC and KVUE

Anonymous said...

The comment on the "Fairness Doctrine" brings up an interesting point.

It's obvious that there are many that don't appreciate conservative talk radio. It's also pointed out regularly that while there is conservative talk radio, there is also a rather strong liberal slant in the television broadcast media.

I find it disturbing how one will ignore certain subjects and rally around others...and I won't go into specifics because there is evidence of it in both mediums.

I don't care for the idea of a reinstatement of the "Fairness Doctrine", per say... but I am worried that broadcasting has lowered itself to appealing to it's viewers/listeners guttural feelings.

I watch tv and listen to radio talk shows...not many and not much but it's obvious that the hosts are more concerned with promoting their beliefs than looking for middle ground... all or nothing. If you've been in this business long enough, you can see through the fancy graphics, sound bites, etc. It's usually more indirect on tv, and of course, on talk radio, the points are clearly stated and direct... but both sides are aware of each other and lob comments back and forth, weekly if not daily.

The "Fairness Doctrine" would force opposing views and responses to attacks to be federally mandated... which is a slippery slope. It's not just one-sided anymore. Attacking the health care bill can bring response from more than democrats... there are public health groups, from aids to drug addiction that would feel threatened by it... and many more. Would one lone opinion have to allow any and all opposing views to voice their concerns? Who would be qualified to argue counter-point?

I agree that broadcasting in general has become one-sided and both political parties are guilty of it... but the "Fairness Doctrine" and other attempts to force equal-time and similar efforts are dangerous ground. There is a third member of this discussion. Profit. Both sides agree that ultimately, there has to be a profit. If conservative talk radio is profitable, then it will continue... if a compelling liberal talk show came about and listeners flocked to listen, then it's obvious that the tide would change. Station owner groups enjoy the fact that the programming they air, is profitable, but we all know that their loyalties are short when revenue wanes.

I have no answers, but I share the concerns of those who feel that the one-sided nature of broadcasting is unhealthy for our country.

Mr. McNabb... thanks for the forum...your thoughts?

Levie Isaacks said...

It is interesting to me that someone could say that "the fairness doctrine slippery slope". The operative word here is Fairness. How can the promotion of fairness be slippery? I just don't see the logic there.

Today we have the Fox Network promoting "Fair and Balanced". It is clear to most folks that they are not even close to being fair and balanced. I have caught and they have been caught by others in ball faced lies. Namely using audience reactions from the presidential campaign as if they were audience reactions to Sarah Palin's promotion of her new book. There are many more but that is a recent one. I ask is that "Fair and Balanced"? hardly. Their trick is to just say it's true even if its not and they don't have to answer to anyone.

It seems the purpose of the "Fairness Doctrine" was put into place because of the few news outlets available on the airways. At the time there were only three networks. Even now I think the number is still to few not to consider some journalism responsibility that is taken on voluntarily by the major newspapers. The bottom line for me is that rants whether they be conservative or liberal are really childish immature behavior. Just like a kid who does not get his way. As a adults and Americans we need honest dialog between political factions, an exchange of ideas that is productive not mean spirited and not meant to inflame emotions but an approach to solve our problems. I saw a lot more of that under the "Fairness Doctrine" than I do now.

NewsMcNabb said...

Editor's Note:

[This same comment also appears in the discussion following "The Fairness Doctrine" post.]

Newspapers are now one faint voice in the marketplace of ideas. It's all apples or all oranges nowadays. I'm talking macro, not micro--the communications universe in the 21st century.

So, yes, the Fairness Doctrine was once meant to ensure balenced coverage, including all voices in the broadcast conversation mirroring Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934 requiring broadcasters to offer political candidates equal time. Let me repeat the year: 1934. Then, the only information sources were radio and newspapers.

The airways belonged to the public and were subject to regulation. Newspapers were subject only to their ethics. Some had ethics.

When broadcast news was deregulated during the Reagan administration, there was no Internet. There was very little cable television.

Times have changed.

The playing field is level now. Newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations all have web sites, many wth blogs. You're looking at another voice in the marketplace.

I still don't think the Fairness Doctrine was ever effective, and it is not relevant in the 21st Century. No, President Obama isn't interested in bringing it back, but some senators are talking about legislation that could codify it.