"Only people power can defeat the oligarchy that's seized our nation."
We were watching the TV at the airline departure area.
"Is it a terrorist incident?" Wolf Blitzer asked. Nobody knows, was the apparent answer.
"Something's happened to the news," a woman around my age at the DC airport, said to Louise and me. "I don't know what it is, but we used to actually know a lot of detail about a lot of things going on, 30 years ago, and now it seems like all the media does is focus on one or two stories all day long and I feel like I'm uninformed."
"Like eating junk food?" I said.
"Yeah, exactly. Empty calories. Why doesn't the news give me the news?"
Louise and I were sitting in front of a TV watching CNN, which was doing hour-long (perhaps day-long?) coverage of a possible terrorist incident in London (turned out it was a traffic accident). Louise shook her head. "Now you've got him started," she said.
The woman, an employee of the airline, looked interested.
"Used to be," I said, "that radio and TV stations had to deliver actual news in order to retain their over-the-air broadcast license. It was called 'the fairness doctrine,' and Reagan stopped enforcing it in '87 and the Obama administration's FCC removed it altogether. Then the media consolidated like crazy, in part because Reagan had stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and no president since Jimmy Carter broke up AT&T has been willing to put it back into effect, and in part because of the media deregulation that Clinton signed in 1996."
"So?" she asked. "Why does that mean that all we get now is nonstop hype and opinion-drivel?"
"It used to be that the metric news organizations used to determine if they were 'doing their job' was how well the American public was informed. That was actually a serious metric, pre-1987, because your station's license depended on it. The public could -- and did -- complain that they weren't being well-informed, and stations jumped when those FCC complaints came in. But now, the only metric the 'news' business uses is how many viewers they have and, thus, how profitable they are for advertisers."
"But why does that mean all we get are the disasters and the dramas of Donald Trump and other crap like that?" She'd expanded her universe of media complaints.
I remembered a lesson that Bob Brakeman, the news director at WITL-AM/FM in Lansing, Michigan, where I used to work in the 1970s as a beat reporter and studio news presenter, taught me.
"When you're choosing what goes into your newscast, remember that there are three buckets of news," Bob, one of the best news guys I ever worked for, said (as best I can remember). "First, there are the facts: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Second is drama: who is hurt or hurting, who is angry, who is happy, who is trying to do what to whom. And the third is sports: who is winning and who is losing."
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