The News We Need
The honchos at the WFHB News Department have been begging for ideas on how to improve the operation. News Director Alycin Bektesh and her trusty Robin, Joe Crawford, have been conducting a News Summit the last few weeks. The idea is to remake the whole shebang so it better serves the community.
Imagine that. Serving the community, that is. Most news sources are but spindly little arms of one giant corporate octopus or another. Ergo, much news coverage these days reflects the fears, prejudices, and agendas of corporate stakeholders, as filtered down through each medium’s reporters and anchors.
Take a look at this lineup of some of the world’s largest media conglomerates:
◆ Gannett Company: It owns the Indy Star as well as USA Today, a passel of other urban dailies, and 20 local television stations.
◆ CBS Corporation: Owns one of the three legacy TV networks, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), as well as the CW network, Showtime, CBS Radio, and Simon & Schuster, one of the largest publishing houses in the world.
◆ News Corporation: Rupert Murdoch’s Frankenstein monster, it owns Fox Network, 20th Century Fox, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and a piece of Hulu.
◆ Viacom, Inc.: Although it doesn’t own any major news outlets per se, it does count among its empire MTV, VH1, BET, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, Spike, and Comedy Central. Each of those properties affects and contributes to the current events dialogue in its own way.
◆ Time Warner, Inc.: Owns TBS, TNT, HBO, CNN, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, and NBA TV.
◆ The Walt Disney Company: Holdings include the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, the Entertainment Sports and Programming Network (ESPN), Marvel Comics, and one half of the A&E Networks.
◆ Comcast Corporation: The biggest dog in the media kennel, Comcast owns countless local cable TV and internet distribution services, the National Broadcasting System (NBC), NBCUniversal, E! Entertainment Television, the Golf Channel, NBCSN, Telemundo, Universal Pictures, and has in recent months acquired Time Warner Cable.
All these corporate behemoths demand that the news operations under their vast umbrellas create profit every single quarter. Back in the glory days of CBS, for instance, delivering the news to the American people was seen as a public service that the networks performed willingly (if not always happily). News departments were loss leaders rather than profit centers. They gave the companies that owned TV and radio stations a sense of importance, gravity, positioned them as good public citizens.
Not no more, babies.
Community radio stations like WFHB, Indiana’s first, aim to offer balance in today’s news-as-product information environment.
I’ve done a couple of stints as a news writer and reporter for WFHB. I worked under Chad Carrothers, the wild man who started the operation (trust me, he was the deadline junkie of all deadline junkies) as well as under Bektesh. It’s hard to do a daily news program only with volunteers. No reporter can work several days in succession on a story and relationships with sources are hard — if not impossible — to cultivate. Over the last year or so, Bektesh became convinced the News shop had to be torn down and reconstructed. So, she set up the four-week news summit, inviting vols and other interested parties to pitch ideas for the rebuild.
Now the News Summit is coming to an end. Its last session will be Friday, August 1st.
Well, as long as she’s asking….
Big Mike’s Suggestions for a New and Improved WFHB News Dept.
1) Eliminate the Daily Local News, now airing at 5:30pm, weekdays.
2) Schedule hourly news updates to be delivered by News Dept. vols or the on-air DJ at the time.
3) Include a news aggregator feature recapping the top stories as covered by the Herald-Times, the IDS, the Indy Star, local TV and radio stations, independent websites, and national electronic and print media outlets.
4) Include weather, IU sports, and entertainment and events calendar and other service features in the news breaks.
5) Create a list of stories of local importance that a succession of reporters will work on for a week. This leads to continuity in information-gathering and ensures the topics will be thoroughly and comprehensively covered. Updates on some or all of those stories can be included in the hourly news breaks and, at the end of the week, one or more long-form features based on them can be aired.
6) Open up the WFHB studios to anybody who wants to comment on events or trends, from local to global. Aggressively seek out contributors for these audio op-eds. Each can be repeated numerous times throughout the day, with the best or most compelling aired throughout the succeeding weekend.
7) Solicit music, art, theater, and other types of reviews from listeners and IU students. These can be aired repeatedly throughout the day at various times (for instance, when the DJ needs a bathroom break.)