I’m going to ramble here for a while on some media thoughts I’ve been having lately.
Every once in a blue moon, when I write a post which offers what I think are revealing facts or perspectives which aren’t being offered in the local mainstream media, I have occasionally posted a link in the NOLA.COM town hall forums.
A couple of days ago, I posted a link to “We all sink or swim together” in the Jefferson, Orleans, West Bank, Uptown, Gentilly, and Mid City town hall forums. As of this evening, all but the Uptown posts were deleted — by NOLA.COM I presume.
Are they merely protecting their readers from leaving the NOLA.COM pages? Is this a form of private censorship? Or is it just a stupid business model?
How many people will be interested in returning to the forums once they discover that the posts are being monitored by a gatekeeper who can arbitrarily delete anything?
I tuned into WIST yesterday afternoon for not more than about five minutes of Kaare “stop shouting” Johnson’s show before I had to change the channel when I heard him say he had been talking to a caller who studied “economy.” What? Economics? It makes me wonder what the qualifications are to be a talk-show host.
Yesterday morning, Bob Delgiorno introduced John Spud McConnell as someone who’s “very opinionated,” elaborating that that’s why Spud’s a talk show host. Huh? Spud McConnell is a redneck yahoo who’s ignorance and contempt for intellectual discussion is daily vindicated by listening to Rush Limbaugh, another mental midget who dutifully recites his lines from the RNCC daily talking points. I’ve heard Spud matter-of-factly say that he doesn’t actually read the newspaper. He just reads the the headlines. Taking a guy who forms opinions without being educated, and turning him out over the airwaves to influence the views of millions of citizens isn’t just bad programming — it contributes to bad public understanding, bad public policy, and it erodes the foundation of our democracy.
A few days ago, I heard Garland Robinette make a pitch for a very worthy cause — Children’s Hospital — by joking that he’d “hit the bong” (rather than “hit the gong”) if anyone called in to pledge $500. A slip of the tongue? He continued to repeat the line as though it was funny to his listeners, or somehow amusing to Children’s Hospital. This is from a guy who never stops talking about himself in almost every segment as being a communications professional who once had a communications business.
With the exception of some notable and distinguished reporters at The Times-Picayune, I have to ask: Where are the real media professionals in this town? I mean, people who have earned their credentials after rigorous formal training, who are seasoned (not hardened) by their years of experience, and who demonstrate that their profession continues to offer opportunities to learn and grow and mature. Anyone?
I think of Bob Marshall, Mark Schlefstein, and Gordon Russell at The Times-Picayune. There are some new potential stars rising at The Times-Picayune as well, like Michelle Krupa.
Were there another major daily, I might be able to point to other professionals who are providing a critical eye on what’s happening in our city. Unfortunately, The Times-Picayune is just too damn big. They’ve sucked all the air out of the region with their bureaus distributed over five or six parishes. Maybe that’s the only way a newspaper can survive these days, but spread so thinly, I’m not sure they can really do a good job.
There was a time when radio and television did more to uncover stories with their investigative news bureaus — never on a par with what newspapers could do, but still, they were there pounding the pavement and demanding answers. WWL TV is the best at it these days (as far as television news goes), but how much can really be done in the occasional two-minute feature?
For its pathetic lack of hard news outlets, New Orleans is really not much different from most urban centers around the nation. There was a time when things were different, when there was more than one paper, and talk shows weren’t dominated by self-aggrandizing angry white men with an ax to grind.
Having multiple sources of information enriches the dialog on vital issues, and gets us to the answers we need faster. For people trying to make sense of what’s happening in New Orleans post-Katrina, we’re starved for information like catfish writhing around at the bottom of a pirogue sucking wind. At this moment when we vitally need a vibrant press to keep tabs on public officials, and to tell us what the hell is going on, we’re stuck with a single daily newspaper, self-promoting TV news personalities, and dim-witted right-wing talk show freaks.
If you take a step back and put it in perspective, we deserve better than what “the market” has given us. We citizens are now paying the true price of the deregulated corporate media-consolidation revolution ushered in by Ronald Reagan, and taken to new extremes by Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress with the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
We need to roll back that deregulation now! We need more localism in our print, radio, and television media. We need more community control, and more diversity of perspectives in the media. We need the Fairness Doctrine. It is, after all, our media, and those bastards ought to listen to what we have to say.
As has become apparent over the last few weeks, I have a particular vendetta against local radio. The biggest targets of my scorn are Entercom and Clear Channel, which own a combined 13 radio stations in the New Orleans market. Until recently, only WWL was offering its uneducated, one-sided interviews with public officials. Then Clear Channel decided to finally change the format of one of its seven radio stations to talk radio, but gave us more of the same raving lunatic angry white men, including convicted insurance commissioner Jim “can’t stop lip-smacking” Brown and Sean Hannity. It’s the absolute epitome of the uninspired programming decisions that come out of corporate boardrooms, not in response to what the community wants or needs, but what they can throw out there to minimize their costs and maximize their ad revenues. Meanwhile, Entercom decided in the last couple of months to kill the only alternative to right-wing talk, Air America Radio, opting instead to broadcast the same content on three of its radio stations.
We don’t need more syndicated hate radio shoveled at us. We need answers to local problems. We need rational, civil conversation, supported by empirical facts, and including a wide-ranging diversity of viewpoints, in order to figure out how to get us out of the mess we’re in. We need to celebrate our local community and culture. We need to have more say in programming decisions and press coverage.
I envision a future in which ubiquitous broadband wireless forces radio stations to finally stop dumping the same repetitive music and syndicated programming on affiliates across the country, because when you can tune in your wireless radio at home or your car, to any station in the country, then every station around the country will be competing for the same potential listeners. I think the result would be more variety, as stations try to identify niches that both capture local audiences, as well as interest national audiences.
WWOZ offers an excellent example of a station which has a niche found nowhere else in the world, and its live internet stream probably entertains tens of thousands of listeners around the globe. It found that niche not because it intended to create programming that appealed to world listeners, but because it was responding to the unique musical culture of New Orleans. Every community has creative roots which could flourish in an innovative new market.
As I’ve been making these arguments for more community input into what we get from our media, I’ve been repeatedly reminded that we also need to fight to retain net neutrality. It’s true. The vision I just described of a more dynamic radio market supported by internet broadcasting won’t happen if we allow corporate gatekeepers to control the content that’s piped over the internet.
That vision is also predicated upon the establishment of more community control over broadcast licenses.
I’ll repeat it again: We should demand that commercial broadcasters hold public hearings now to demonstrate how they’re serving the community (print media should be listening to us as well). The FCC should step in and demand that commercial broadcasters justify their right to hold the licenses which we own — not them. If they can’t prove that they’re adequately serving the community (and how could they), we should demand that they hand over their licenses to more responsive organizations.
Imagine what could be done if we gave the microphone to the neighborhood activists to talk about what’s on their minds. There’d be no hiding from them, and it’d be some of the best radio ever. It would also, I have argued, be completely commercially viable, since the audience would be comprised of precisely the kinds of people rebuilding their homes and their communities who big advertisers want to reach. All that’s lacking is an FCC license, which we as a community are entitled to, and which we should speak up for.
I attended a forum on Louisiana public policy and perception Tuesday at St. Dominic School. The panel of speakers included Berkeley engineer Bob Bea and LSU scientist Ivor Van Heerden, who have both been crusaders for truth against obfuscation by the Corps of Engineers. Both said that we as a community need to be responsible for generating the momentum needed to create the kinds of innovative engineering projects required to protect our city and our state from future storms. A radio station would be an extraordinary way to unify and amplify our collective voices.
We’ve been floundering in the recovery of our city and region thus far, not because we don’t want things to move faster, but because our public officials are so damned incompetent. We need to raise our voices so they can hear us loud and clear in City Hall, Baton Rouge, and Washington.
“And you didn’t punch her in the face?”
“We shall beat our plowshares into swords”
WIST is an “entertainment” station
Kill corporate media
No harm done when you’re already braindead
Better dead than blue
How corporate control kills media democracy
Whoring for WWL
Dems win, Entercom kills progressive radio