This summer will be my 20th year in television. After 5 years off working in a job I didn’t like and had no inclination of continuing, I decided to make the change and get into the field I went to school for. It meant making some drastic changes in my life, which included leaving the San Francisco bay area, a place I had grown to love since moving there 7 years ago.
It also meant going down into the trenches and starting from scratch in television. Back then, the news business was still very much stable. But changes were coming in the form of deregulation. Fox News was still in its infancy and had not made an impact on the landscape…yet. Legislation would make it easier for businesses to own more TV and radio stations, which meant less voices and less jobs to be had. More “investment bankers” would lend their ideas of how to run a television station on less resources.
It wouldn’t be until the later half of the new decade that real changes would be made. A documentary outlining those changes was created in 2011 called, “Running on Empty: The Brain Drain in Local TV News”. The documentary was produced by Bill and Karin Schwanbeck, professors of journalism at Quinnipiac University.
In it, the team explains that journalism was, “losing experienced reporters at a record rate. This means less in-depth and investigative reporting that help keep you informed.” The duo interviews a number of current and former reporters who have been affected by the changing media. They share their frustrations and challenges as they move on with their lives.
One angle involves my former TV station, WSTM and its take-over of WTVH’s news operations though a “Shared-Services Agreement” in 2009. I made my opinions known about it in a previous blog entry. My feelings haven’t changed, but have been reinforced by this documentary. Bill and Karin Schwanbeck make the case on how television journalism is slowly becoming a lost cause due to mismanagement, a lack of a local commitment and the race to the bottom in terms of doing more with less.
Unfortunately, the trend continues, with more than 80 markets across the country entering into SSA’s and very few investigative units in major TV markets. Ironically, its also the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. It was investigative journalism that uncovered who was behind the scandal. If the trend continues, it’s the viewers who lose out in the end.
I recommend everyone watch this documentary and, more importantly, be called to action.