Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Have a Dream

I dream of a day we will have at least three 24-hour commercial news networks dedicated to delivering Pittsburgh regional news.

Enough so that at least one network can be blatantly biased, while the other two can remain only moderately or subtly biased in some way. You know, so we get all the relevant perspectives. Enough so that they're competing with each other like bull stags to beat each other to the punch, out-entertain the actual entertainment channels, and fill their infinite news holes.

Okay, that one might be unrealistic.

Let's say I dream of the day we will have at least one daily half-hour's worth of television programming dedicated to local news, somewhere on the dial.

Not what we have now -- not crime, weather, sports and pap. I dream of a program where unless there is a devastating tragedy on the order of Stanton Heights, an historic blizzard or an actual championship, then the first story by default will always concern City Hall. And the second story by default will always concern City Hall. And if there isn't enough breaking news from City Hall (or which will summon the attentions of City Hall) reporters will go out and manufacture pseudo-stories by pulling controversial quotes somewhat out of context, or pull key statistics that make something sound like an emergency.

And if there still isn't enough news to fill that measly one half-hour, I want news analysts and competing pundits brought in to talk about how we ought to be thinking about what was just discussed during the first 15 minutes.

I dream of news anchors that stare us down with troubled intensity and use their everything-is-dire television news voice all the time -- even when talking about a humdrum meeting of the Parking Authority, or a possible future run by a longshot candidate for County Council. I dream of digital graphics and sound effects for everything, and of most of all I dream of producers who daily threaten to fire their reporters if they don't hunt down and sensationalize the local news well enough -- or they will bring in somebody who can.*

Moreover, I want a half-hour news magazine hosted by somebody who's totally in-the-tank for Luke Ravenstahl. Somebody I can really enjoy hating, because that at least would be something. Then some of the other news outlets can criticize the overbearing influence of that person, and maybe he or she will say something over the line or embarrassing, or maybe even wind up in a scandal involving prescription pain medication or sexual harassment. Yeah.

Because I'm sick and tired of hearing that "Pittsburgh voters aren't engaged in this election", and that election and every other election. That this issue is too inside baseball and that issue is too inside baseball, and every issue is too inside baseball and nobody cares about anything.

If you desire people to pay attention, somebody has to grab them by the lapels and make them pay attention. Somebody has to work hard day in and day out to build an audience that does not exist yet but can so very easily exist because we see these audiences elsewhere, and inform them of important matters with all the bells and alarms and activity with which we are accustomed to receiving our important information.

You may not love everything about the national media, and you may not love everything about the tone of the national debate. But take a look around, and you'll notice that everybody is a heck of a lot better informed and more engaged with national issues than you'll find them with local issues. And it's no accident. We made them that way. We can do it with local news.

Nothing is wrong with people in Pittsburgh. The media is simply sound asleep to some huge opportunities -- and given the right patience, the right commitment, the right vision and the right moxie, there's a lot of money to be made.

_______________

*-The same mentality should already be operating for print media, obviously. It just might do the trick.

35 comments:

  1. Amen, sir. A-freaking-men.

    With respect and apologies to Mike Madison, this is now my favorite Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh

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  2. Yes. Yesyesyesyes. Ah, yes. Oh, and another point, YES.

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  3. I think it's a great vision, but there's not really a lot of money to be made. News actually used to be local, but you can get economies of scale covering national news that you can't get covering local news. The margins are much thinner in local news because each news outlet needs to retain a reporting staff, and the number of eyeballs (or eardrums) receiving that local reportage is much smaller. That's the reason for the trend toward national news (ex: filling the PG with AP stories): increased margins.

    I do think that there's every reason that there should be local news coverage, but I expect those who create the coverage won't be motivated by bonanzas of profit.

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  4. Michaek - Here's what I don't understand though -- and that's excellent feedback -- but we already have "local news". Hours and hours of it, and each channel elects to do it. The evident talent is just slightly different, and the programming is geared toward another purpose -- it's the same kind of program our parents and grandparents are familiar with.

    (Seriously, would a time traveler from 1972 feel any sense of wonder upon watching the local news of 2010? Or would they record in their journal in that instance, "At least some things never change?")

    But my point is, we're already committing significant resources toward "local news" programming, despite the economies of scale, it's just geared toward satisfying different wants. My contention is that there are other wants out there if we tease and stoke and nurture them. We all know how addictive this stuff can be, once you see it's all severa never-ending soap operas piled on top of each other, with genuine outrages by the bushel. Bonanzas of profit? I don't know. Real profit for being the first to break the mold of 1972? I think so.

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  5. It would take a very bold and courageous news director who has very little concern for job security, because the safe bet in this town is always going to be Steelers and weather. Always. Interest in local government is not nearly as reliable for bringing in viewers as the threat of a season-ending injury or a snowstorm.

    And while an increased focus from local TV outlets could probably boost interest/awareness among the citizens, that interest/awareness will never - for a variety of reasons - surpass the public interest in the Steelers.

    If this great untapped audience of which you speak truly does exist, wouldn't a show like Night Talk have made a move to one of the primary networks, or at least show signs of actually being watched by a significant portion of the population?

    I also applaud your dream and share it. But perhaps one angle of our beloved blue-collar working-class mindset in this city is that a separation exists, a disconnect between "us" and "them", and while that distinction is rooted in the industrial workplace roots of the region, the mentality has carried over to the active participation - or lack thereof - in local government.

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  6. Or, instead of pursuing a legit media model, why not align w/ the Jon Stewart model = Fake News? That way, the start-up costs can be handled by the Film Office.... (am sure you love the notion of collaborating w/ Chris Rawson after the OTR mishap)

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  7. I don't know what I could do to push the agenda other than tell everyone I know about the great idea percolating at the comet, but the time is ripe for such a startup. I am tired of sounding like Eyeore in this town, "Oh wellllllll, I guess I will watch the news again..." or substitute "listen to KDKA" or "watch the city cable channel." Any endeavor has to be based in educating the next generation and advancing "cleanliness" in politics for me to dance a jig. As much as I love fake news, a blogger once informed me after I posted that the trouble with satire is not everybody recognizes it. Boy Bram, that was tough for me to read.

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  8. Look at radio for insight. What is the market share in the mornings for WDVE, the Bob, WYEP and WDUQ? How many more people get their news from Val Porter, over Steve Inskeep?

    The difficultly with local news is that the city of pittsburgh cannot monopolize the news. It's another product of the urban diaspora/exurban sprawl. The viewers and advertising revenue can't sustain it. Local news is essentially regional news, because the city of pittsburgh cannot support even one (1) news source, let alone 4 or 5 over competing media - even the City Paper has articles beyond the city limits.

    Did you consult with Johnny Mac before writing this?

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  9. The only we will get concrete coverage of the election or city hall the way we should is if the following people run for Mayor, Council or County Exec: Ben, Sidney, or Mario...

    Sad but true

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  10. We need FOX-Pittsburgh; Fair and Balanced!

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  11. While I personally loved Johnny Mac on Night Talk he was sometimes mean-spirited. It was not uncommon for him to attack someone like Melissa Hart. Engage her on the issues and how she repped her district not on the last time she changed her hairstyle (I am being kind compared to JM). If you heard Jimmy, Randy, and guest Paul Alexander this morning on DVE discussing a news story and taking a serious caller on it, you might have gotten the idea like I did, these guys could clean the clocks of those currently on radio and tv here. And they could do it without cracking a joke.

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  12. Bram, you just hit the bulls eye.

    Thank you.

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  13. I Have a DreamsicleOctober 28, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    Why don't you send a proposal to the Heinz Foundation Bram?

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  14. Chris Peak - The problem with using Night Talk as a barometer is that it's a little ... ah, how shall I put this ... discursive? Sort of laid back and public-access feeling? I'm envisioning something more crisp and into camera, like Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room. Minus the holograms if they still do that, and maybe with chairs. You know: "The News". And as to your bottommost point -- I don't know -- I bet the sons and daughters of mill hunkies are presently well-enough informed about things like healthcare and the public option and all things Presidential.

    N'at - I've already granted that such a thing would have to be "regional" in nature to be sustainable, even in Dreamland, but I would hope the region identifies with Pittsburgh well enough to sit through a compelling report about the City proper. But you're right it would need to Get Around.

    All - I'm going to have to start listening to the DVE Morning Show again. I'm more familiar with their work with Stanley P. Kachowski and N'AtMan.

    And also all, yes I intend to familiarize myself with this world of applying for grants and whatnot, it's just a little unfamiliar to me. It's not the model which was taught when I was a kid, that being resumes and want ads, and the odd business plan for the purposes of securing a bank loan. Plus I feel it's important that any venture ultimately be commercial in nature if it's going to be driven and have an edge, and don't know how Foundations fit into that. How many grant recipients gobble their grant money, produce a thin sort of Science Fair Project style body of work and then fizzle out?

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  15. * Could not agree more about the pointlessness of the crime/fire/weather stories, and the need to push government stories to the fore while making them interesting.

    * Disagree about the manufacturing of pseudo-stories and a "telling people what's important" that goes beyond the usual news judgment. A little too Limbaugh and/or Pravda for my generally old-school tastes.

    * Disagree that there is a market for local news channels. It's possible that you could generate interest in this if it was *really* well done, but most likely it's something that would lose millions upon millions of dollars and only a few people would watch.

    * Disagree about the 24-hour news cycle and the degree to which people are "engaged" in national politics. They're presented with -- and therefore "engaged" in -- only the sexy margins of politics. Where they are engaged in actual issues, they're so watered down/dumbed down/distorted by talk shows that no one really knows what they're in favor of.

    * Disagree that said 24-hour news is something that would be good for Pittsburgh, or anywhere. I'm on the Jon Stewart end of the spectrum, believing that the lack of calmness, thought, and fact-checking that comes with the 24-hour news cycle is pretty much killing America.

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  16. WRCT occasionally has local political talk shows. Slim listenership, but perhaps a good model.

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  17. Archi, I few responses out-of-order:

    I never said there was a market for a 24-hour local news channel -- did you catch where I wrote, "okay, that one might be unrealistic"? I did insist there is a market for a daily half-hour of serious local political/government news.

    What's so great about "usual news judgment", and what's so usual about it anymore? I reject your likening of the communication of enthusiasm and importance to Pravda, and reject your fear of what Rush Limbaugh has been doing in that particular respect, because I think audiences are smart and independent enough to make decisions as to how much to accept the suggestions they are given. What they're not genius enough to do is pick up on the relative importance of a subject if no one is treating any subject matter as important, urgent, dramatic and exciting. Human beings exchange and evaluate data through emotionality.

    Finally, I reject your (and if necessary, Stewart's) contention that America is being killed by anything at all, much less cable news. We are better informed than we once were, even if we are not perfectly informed. Stewart is right to criticize the foibles of 24-hour news when it is silly or evinces inconsistencies, but at the same time he couldn't do that if the material and the mission didn't exist in the first place, you know? Some urgency and drama, even if it is occasionally misplaced, is better than none at all. It's easy to pick on what's wrong with today's news universe, but there's a lot to love about it -- and as it errs, as it regularly does, people know to take it with a grain of salt and take it together with whatever resides in the neighboring solar systems.

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  18. We are better informed than we once were, even if we are not perfectly informed.

    Thing is.... no. We're not. There have been studies that have shown it. I know that Pew did a survey on the basics a few years back, and showed fewer people could name the VP in 2007 vs. the late 80's, fewer knew we had a trade deficit, that sort of thing.

    I always intuited that this was the case, with or without a study.
    The general news cacophony results in not just the proliferation of false info, but our frustration at an inability to get to the truth and/or find a trusted source. And that frustration results in short attention spans and a throwing up of the hands and changing of the channel to something much more pleasant. Like, anything else.

    Also, I guess you and I (and the late Tip O'Neill and I) differ a bit on the urgency of local vs. national and global issues. And our ear holes and brainy parts have only so much room for political information. Inside the Grant Street Beltway machinations will always play second fiddle, except in the case of a major impeachment or sex scandal (the political equivalent of the Stanton Heights shooting).

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  19. I share your anguish, Bram, and your yearning, but I do not sense any realistic basis for optimism.

    Pittsburgh is a small town, heavy on yinzers and the elderly and the complacent, light on youth and inquisitiveness and economic vibrancy. Would this region support a first-rate news source to the point of commercial viability? In the land of chipped chopped ham, Iron City beer, Luke Ravenstahl and bingo, I am strongly skeptical.

    Perhaps more important, could this region spawn an altruistic, competent publisher with adequate resources and a willingness to compete with (or purchase) the established media? It could . . . but that isn't likely. If you had the aptitude, the resources and the drive, would you pick Pittsburgh over any of 50 other cities?

    Could Pittsburgh attract the journalists necessary to populate the type of newsroom you envision? That might be the best bet. Journalists are altruistic, accustomed (until they quit) to lousy working conditions and meager resources, and willing to endure much in pursuit of an opportunity to save the world. If someone would build it, they would come.

    Pittsburgh offers abundant material. The lack of an energetic watchdog, coupled with the caliber of its elected officials and civic leaders, has created enough stories to keep active journalists occupied for an extended period.

    There is a reason local broadcasters cover cat-in-tree stories, and it is the reason the Trib and P-G are what they are, and it is the reason Pittsburgh is what it is.

    Keep raging against the dying of the light, Bram . . . but recognize the light is dying.

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  20. Gee, Bram, what kind of cheese would you like with that whine? Some news for ya, Allegheny County has over 150 municipalities, most of which dislike the "City". So any news station that dedicated any show as you described would have a rating of 0.00000001-. Besides, except for yourself & maybe 10-15 blogonuts, nobody gives a rat's backside about this stuff.

    If it was desired by the people, someone would have sold it by now.
    Everyone else is too busy having a life.

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  21. If everyone else desired to "have a life," they wouldn't be in southwestern Pennsylvania, and if they weren't in southwestern Pennsylvana, the region might not be declining.

    There are exceptions to the general rule that the Pittsburgh area's population has been diluted for decades as those with brains and resources and opportunity and ambition have departed for greener pastures, but the rule makes it difficult to accept any self-congratulation from those who remain, especially if the boasting involves being ignorant (with delusions of superiority concerning "having a life").

    The lack of a strong news source --is one of the reasons Pittsburgh finds itself in the ditch. So is the fact that most Pittsburghers would rather listen to a neighbor recount a brush with a Steeler at the supermarket checkout line than read a good newspaper. This is nothing to celebrate, in my judgment.

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  22. Very interesting...actually bram you yourself are a great source of Pittsburgh news for me. I just moved here in July and have found myself lamenting the lack of really good local news coverage...tv news websites all seem the same to me... and as I commute over two hours every day I have wished over and over for a great Pittsburgh radio talk show and imagine what I would cover if I had one. I have also met with several people who talk about wanting a really good Pittsburgh news magazine too and it seems to come before me everywhere I go. I know I'm a newbie, but it didn't take me long to pick up on this. I do appreciate your blog tho, because it really is a way for me to get underneath the weather, sports, etc. news, and feel the pulse of this city that I really am falling in love with!

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  23. what a f---ning a--hole. I wish I wish I wish ...

    as if... start filing your complaints with the FCC for every damn thing they do .... that will get their attention not whinning with brammy on the net...

    I bet you activists couldn't organize the filing of 10 seperate with the FCC within 5 days. Yinz put out the political pressure of a gnat.
    complainthttp://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm?sid=d1e640&id=d1e697s

    you start dumping complaints on the local licensees (2,4, 11) you start to see a change ..but oh yeah your're not about change are you ...just activist whinnning?
    boo hoo no one cares

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  24. Welcome to the bandwagon.

    A friend of mine told me in 2000, "Mark, don't pick fights with those that buy ink by the barrel."

    That is good advice for those that want to win elections and get jobs. But, it isn't what I was out to do. I'd rather work and save the region.

    I have an education and background in journalism and publishing. I've been upset at the local media for decades. And, I let them and others know about many of their fumbles.

    But the worst of the worst is QED. So much for needing a commercial station. We should have 2 noncommercial public stations that are doing the work that needs to be done and we get do-whop. They suck. They are the root of many ills.

    Jim Roddey would NOT sign my petition to get allow me onto the ballot in 2001 because I was pounding on QED -- and he was on the board there.

    As for fun news: Ever see "The Art of News" -- a PCTV21 show? Great stuff. We held writters meetings at my home/office. I miss that and them. So much fun. Very worthy pursuits.

    Don't go to the the foundation folks -- as they saw to it that QED got to its state. Unless you go to them and ask for heads now -- not a year from now (i.e. George Miles). Jagoffs.

    Talkshoe.com works. You gotta get your own podcast(s). That should be the next step for many with ambitions.

    Press a CD / DVD -- cost about $.25 each. Do that five times and then attach your resume to it.

    Ron Morris would be a good stop after that work has been completed.

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  25. The most recent voice (12:03) supporting Pittsburgh's current media and general status quo can spell neither "whining" nor "separate."

    I rest my case.

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  26. That would be a terrible lead-in for Access Hollywood and Jeopardy. And would they still be able to say "Severe Weather Team" as many times as possible even though Pittsburgh almost never ever gets any severe weather?

    Sounds like a job for WQED, hosted by Tony Norman, and kept as far away from the networks as possible!

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  27. Bram You Write:

    "Moreover, I want a half-hour news magazine hosted by somebody who's totally in-the-tank for Luke Ravenstahl. Somebody I can really enjoy hating, because that at least would be something. Then some of the other news outlets can criticize the overbearing influence of that person, and maybe he or she will say something over the line or embarrassing, or maybe even wind up in a scandal involving prescription pain medication or sexual harassment. Yeah."

    BRAM:That Person Would Be Me!

    I believe Mayor Luke is on side of working men and women, gays, black or white...

    As long as they don't live in trailers...

    Alpark Terrace the City's Oldest Mobile Home Community would like to thank Mayor Luke for taking our property taxes and applying it to Lieberries...


    Monk

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  28. I am very impressed with the way the City's ZBA renders decisions in timely manner...

    ...as long as issues are simple.

    Complexity is excuse to delay.

    But, I understand issues as they apply to Case #109-09. Alpark Terrace vs. International Union Of Boilermakers Local 154...

    Boondoggle!

    Sure Mayor will handle before last holdout is tossed out...

    Last man standing is a...

    monk

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  29. To My Buddy Deegazette:

    Are you enjoying Autumn?

    Went from bunker (Alpark) that once was home... to foxhole that is boyhood home.

    Like cataracts the trees obstructed view...as I peer outside the boundary lines, I wander at sight,

    'as leaves fall the sights of my past are reveled...

    Best wishes

    monk

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  30. Northern Girl - Thanks. Quite possibly the nicest compliment I've received ages, perhaps 'cause it came from a commenter I've only noticed maybe once or twice before. Much appreciated.

    Monk - What's the latest on Allpark Terrace, anyway? Are any holdout residents still there? Have the dispersal orders come down yet? Will they use the LRAD? Please reply in this comment thread.

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  31. I'm sorry I haven't read all the comments on here. A few thoughts.

    First, I think actually the blog online and print format maybe a better way to do this. There is more energy here than you think.

    Suppose several serious bloggers each agreed to contribute to one blog and evolve it into an online magazine? Better yet in my opinion might be a more format that somehow covered a wider region of say 300 miles--- Including West Virginia, Cleveland and Youngstown.

    I also want to say that not all the lack of interest in local issues is foolish. A lot of the real power is now in Washigton, the state or obscure government agencies. Of course city mismanagement has made this more true.

    I also think fear plays a bigger and bigger role. It's a very small town and most people who know it's likey not in their interest to sniff for bodies.

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  32. Bram: I enjoyed G-20 Protest, old hippy that I am.

    LRAD was not employed...the silence has been deafening, however.

    Resident of Alpark for life...still have toe in door jam that is ZBA.

    monk

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  33. Ms. Monongahela, Ms. Chief Editor...

    Name is monk...

    ...checked out blog, photo.

    Hurt me please! Talk about guns.

    Every foxhole should be so lucky...

    monk

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