It's time to save news / by Victor Currie

Like so many of my media colleagues, I'm saddened by the slow march toward death that newsgathering has been making these last few years.

While it's been quite a while since I've been doing much in the way of traditional journalism, I think my various forays into different media (from developing satellite business television networks programming to new media to directing commercials to producing cheesy network reality TV with dogs) gives me some insight into how we can save some of the traditional journalism outlets.

I don't care whether you're reading the Huffington Post or Drudge, if you get all your "news" from a specific-agenda-driven aggregator, you aren't getting a complete view of the world.  There is a reason so many people from traditional journalism backgrounds lament the death of newspapers (beyond the end of their jobs), and that is the ongoing erosion of checks-and-balances in the newsroom that happens when the various editors send the reporters back because they haven't proved their story to the extent that its ready for print. As newspaper staffing dwindles, this quality control drops, the due diligence weakens, and you end up with the New York Times printing fake stories (and they're just one of the few big papers to get caught).

While online journalism has a wonderful implication of immediacy, the fact-checking that gets lost in the rush to be first is worse than even local TV news' need to have something to say when they go "Live at 11!"  And of course, we are seeing far too many blog posts accepted as fact and then re-quoted by a more (supposedly) legitimate source and then picked up by national media as if it was real. (None of this is actually new. Back in the early 1970s, my dad and the actor Glenn Ford made up a fake story together and my dad read it on the air as a test to see how long it would take for the National Enquirer to pick it up and report it as fact. It took three weeks.)

So I'm going to propose what many, especially the FCC, consider sacrilege.

Consolidation within individual markets.

It's really simple. Combine the newsgathering operations of broadcast, web, and print so there are enough people working to actually cover the news. 

Yes this requires changing the rules about cross-ownership of media within individual markets, but that's been a dead horse for a long time now (as here in LA, where Tribune owns the Times and KTLA-TV).

Is there any reason that a single reporter/producer, working with a cameraperson/editor/tech-person-with-mobile-broadband-device can't handle writing up a story for TV, radio, web, and print?  Some may argue that reporters can't cover as many stories, but that's the point. Have a larger number of people reporting across multiple media still allows for a smaller number of people working for the combined media company overall, but there can be more people actually covering the stories. And those reporters would have more time to get the story right, instead of rushing away from covering the policy decision that can affect our taxes to run across town to cover the latest car crash.

Others may argue that a lot of high-quality print reporters would never make it on TV, but I think that is one of the dumbest concepts ever forced upon an unsuspecting public.  Who ever came up with the idea that reporters on television needed to do live on-camera recaps of hours-old news?  Report broadcast stories the old-fashioned way, with good B-roll, and just have the interview subjects on camera.  I really don't care that a hot blond reporter is standing in front of a dark building telling me something happened there six hours earlier - just show the aftermath of the original situation in video - I don't need to have the story told to me live. (Not that I don't think hot blond reporters are good, just that their skills as journalists should be the priority in hiring).

We can still keep the attractive people in the anchor chair. Anchors are for the most part hosts rather than reporters these days (no slight intended to my actual journalist-anchor friends).  That's why we hire attractive billboard-friendly people for the job.  The main requirement for the job, if we adopted my model and had more skilled journalists in the field, is to be able to smoothly read the prompter to introduce the stories and be able to ad-lib a bit if it breaks (a lot harder than it sounds for those of you who have never had to do it).That is why in Britain, Australia, and other countries, they don't have "anchors," they have "News Readers."

Radio and the web can bring immediacy. TV can bring the daily recap. Print then provides the deeper analysis and fact-checking it could then have the time to handle, plus the more in depth analysis and human interest features.  As some cities are cutting back on the number of days the local newspaper goes to press, a two or three day print cycle (most likely to include Thursday and Sunday for the advertising cycle) might make economic sense but the news coverage would still continue across the other media.

It's a change, and people are resistant to change, but overall this kind of consolidation makes economic sense in a new media era (even if it would inevitably lead to less competition between news outlets).

Our course, how much credibility can I have now, since I am writing this in a blog?