Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Why Local TV News is NOT a "Social Lubricant"
An interesting discussion last night at Ryerson University. Entitled "Local TV News Under Siege," it was cosponsored by RTNDA and the School of Journalism. It was to be a panel of news executives on the troubles and travails of local television journalism.
Three of the panelists were from commercial tv stations in and around Toronto, plus the head of local tv news from the CBC. They were there ostensibly to address the plight of local tv news in Canada which is in freefall as ratings decline and advertisers look for other media to place their wares.
But it was a depressing evening. All four panelists were well meaning, I'm sure. All avoided addressing the issue of "whither (sic) local tv news." Instead, to a person, they all denied there is a problem and happily engaged in a round of shameless self-promotion for their stations. Only one panelist, Adrian Bateman from the CTV station in Windsor, Ontario did acknowledge that his station is committed to serving the viewers with high quality, ethical and contextual journalism.
Members of the audience trying to get them to address their collective failure, to little effect. All claimed that the ratings are up. The CBC spokesperson was in extreme denial, in my opinion, when she was asked about why there is no role of social media and citizen journalism. Her answer was that social media is irrelevant: "We haven't talked about that in two years!"
Instead it was the usual recitation of how viewers only want local information especially if it's about crime, traffic or weather.
I suggested that a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism says the exact opposite, but that was met with blank stares. In fact, I didn't hear one new idea from any of the panelists.
As I gloomily wended my way home I happened to hear an amazing BBC World Service report on satellite radio that shifted my mood:
It was by reporter Peter Day and was an interview with - of all people - the CEO of the company that makes the lubricant WD-40! Garry Ridge is an Australian who now heads the WD-40 empire, based in San Diego, California. Ridge is something a management guru on this. But his approach is one that media organizations, especially in these hard economic times, might heed.
Ridge spoke about when a company values its own employees in a serious and substantial way (decent pay, a commitment to training, etc.) that translates into valuing the customer. He also said that when management actually listens to employees, you hear the customers!
What a radical idea for media organizations who don't listen to their employees and don't hear their readers, listeners or viewers! This is particularly applicable to the CBC which appears to be going through yet another program and staff re-organization - despite its diminishing number of employees and its declining audience.
Maybe we should be in the business of selling lubricants...which come to think of it, is precisely what journalism should be doing.