Sharing: Good for GOP, bad for media

David Brooks of the New York Times argues that Republicans spend too much time worrying about freedom and individual choice rather than community and sharing.

 

Perhaps the GOP should call Chicago's big television stations, where sharing will soon be the order of the day, and night. Economic anxiety is breeding what seems a pragmatic camaraderie but may constitute, upon later inspection, the media's latest self-inflicted wound.

Four of the city's five biggest stations will pool two camera crews apiece, for a total of eight, with one first-among-equals manager deciding how they'll be deployed. The driving notion is that there's a lot of generic footage everybody duplicates---of press conferences, fires, car accidents, cat in tree, man on street opining about 70-degree weather, baseball player declining to discuss steroid use, shocked neighbor saying alleged serial killer "was such a quiet man," etc.---and this will free the stations to exhibit more enterprise in how they use their other crews.

 

The stations can decide for themselves if they want to dispatch an individual reporter, maybe more, to any story. They can edit the shared footage however they desire and write their stories any which way. If they want to add musical refrains from Beyonce or Sinatra, so be it.

 

Unfortunately, this gambit has precious little to do with viewers, and their declining loyalty, and everything to do with economics, especially for weaker stations which have already downsized sharply. For all the naval-gazing done by us print guys about ourselves ----namely the decline of newspapers amid catastrophic revenue declines---local broadcasters have been similarly creamed, even if they suffer with less attention.

 

"We've sunk so low, I embrace this!" says a friend of mine, a veteran Chicago TV reporter. The reporter notes that cutbacks have already meant sometimes skipping press conferences of the city's Mayor-For-Life Richard M. Daley, or simply not having anybody other than a freelancer to cover a breaking story at 2 a.m.

 

Interestingly, while stations owned by NBC, CBS, Fox and Tribune Co. are part of the just-announced Chicago consortium, the one owned by ABC is not. That station, WLS-Ch.7, in part fueled by the engine of "Oprah" (she co-hosted a morning show on the station before she became a planetary icon), is the clear market leader and would essentially be subsidizing its competitors, who by and large have fewer resources (cameras, trucks, bodies) than WLS.

 

Not only does the station's boss, Emily Barr, not see any significant savings (the real expense at a stations like hers is compensation for anchors), but she divines the journalistic  homogeneity already besetting her business only accentuating.

 

She's correct. If young people are already turned off local TV because they find it pedestrian and banal, imagine when they see exactly the same video and sound on a significant number of stories.

 

For sure, there's the implicit argument that the consortium's members make that there are lots of pro forma stories for which sound and photography are indistinguishable. A press conference is a press conference is a press conference.

 

Even if one concedes the static nature of a fair number of events, what then does distinguish the practitioners of a distinctly visual medium from one another? Is it simply the convivial, six-figure anchors and the latest variation on the weather person's Doppler Radar?

 

In fact, there are good photographers and bad ones. There are industrious, inventive ones, and there are lazy bones. There are those who will focus on former reality show wannabe  Rod Blagojevich's front door while he slides out the back. There are those who will be fixated on pedestrian angles at a press conference, as opposed to making lemonade out of lemons with something a bit more interesting.

Presented by

James Warren is the Chicago editor of The Daily Beast and an MSNBC analyst. He is the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

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