Speaker & media consultant | Evangelist for your social agenda
by Jan Hutchins, CEO of SocialAgenda Media.
Because I used to be “somebody” people are always asking me what I think of the media. This is a blog about media, new and traditional, and I carry a bias against the way dependence on ratings affect the media today. The parallel debate in the new media industry is do we create content for the visitor or the search engines? My bias against creating solely for the search engines seems appropriate to explain as we start getting to know one another.
I was a media star zooming along on television in San Francisco when the FCC changed my life. In 1981, for radio, and 1984 for television, the Federal Communications Commission, as part of deregulation, ended the requirement stations conduct interviews with community leaders, solicit and maintain public files of comments about programming, and make the public aware of the station’s duty to address community issues. Stations had also been required to file Problems/Programs Lists with the FCC, outlining community problems and listing specific programs broadcast to address them.
There was debate over the effectiveness of ascertainment as it was called, but there was no question it was a threat to broadcasters that community groups might (and did) use the requirements to threaten the stations’ license renewal. Without that threat stations have had few challenges to their licenses to essentially print money using the public (our) airwaves.
In 1985, the Federal Communications Commission ended guidelines for minimal amounts of news and public affairs programming media outlets had to broadcast and how many ads per hour media outlets could broadcast.
Before deregulation getting good ratings for newscasts was a bonus but the emphasis was on quality of content, after, it all changed. The perhaps unintended consequence was to turn station’s attention from community service to profit making. News operations were forced to be just another profit center and ratings became KIng.
Staffing was reduced and the reporting of original news stories became nearly impossible. The understandable pressure on well-intentioned people caught in this new system created a dumbing-down of content and cynical manipulation of audiences to get ratings and save their jobs.
Terms like “rip and read” (just reading wire service copy and calling it reporting) describing the news format as “tits, tots and pets”, and “if it bleeds it leads” highlight the cynicism that ensued. Studies show watching local television news these days actually creates negative misperceptions about reality.
News companies can now choose to either serve the community’s right to be informed or let programming be determined by their profit margin. They regulate themselves based on their individual, journalistic ethical code.
Deregulation also led to the media conglomerate mergers that we have today. Ask the folks at KGO radio in SF or anywhere else in the business just how that’s working.
For me, deregulation was the beginning of the end of my media dream to be part of saving the world. (I know, so naïve!)
That was nearly 30 years ago. I got frustrated and left the business. Today I start this blog with renewed hope that science has made art and hopefully artistic journalism possible again. By the way, the title and keywords in this posting have not been Search Engine Optimized.
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