America’s airwaves have been damaged by a series of rule changes the past two decades that have ushered in an era of bland commercial radio and television.
— The Seattle Times, 7/8/2007
Working for 710-KIRO, the commercial news/talk station with Seattle’s best local news coverage, the most live and local programming, and the
most only balanced lineup of talkers in the market, I can agree with the thesis of today’s Seattle Times editorial entirely guilt-free. (You know, except for the part about agreeing with a Seattle Times editorial — it just makes me feel so dirty.)
But as long as we’re talking about “homogenized,” “formula[ic]” and “bland” commercial media, I’m wondering if the Times’ editors have bothered reading their own front page recently?
Saturday’s front page consisted of two soft features and two news stories, both lifted from the Los Angeles Times. Today’s front page is dominated by an infomercial for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, a bleak assessment of our military and political failures in Iraq (courtesy of the Washington Post,) and the first installment of a serial novella.
Two days. Two front pages. No hard, local news.
By comparison, every article on the front page of today’s New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Philadelphia Inquirer was written by staff reporters. I’m just sayin’.
To be fair, the Seattle P-I isn’t much better in this regard, and the kind of homogenized, formulaic and bland fare we tend to see in Seattle’s dailies is pretty typical of broadsheets nationwide. While I don’t mean to diminish the Times’ defensible thesis that lax ownership rules and media consolidation have damaged the broadcast industry’s ability (and willingness) to serve local interests, the steady decline in both quality and readership of our nation’s daily newspapers suggests that there are broader forces at work.
This isn’t the first time the Times has editorialized on media ownership rules, and I urge the editorial board to flog this issue with the same sort of zeal they reserve for estate tax repeal. But I would also encourage a little introspection into how staff cuts and a slavish devotion to style-book-over-substance has led to a steady decline in the quality and utility of their own product.
No doubt, local media ownership tends to better serve local community interests. But as the Times has proven by example, it is no panacea on its own.