Guest Column: Local media dysfunction

Guest Column: Local media dysfunction

By Rick Jones

I was sorry to hear that Bruce Richardson, veteran TV anchorman, passed away May 20. Living in Rockford all of my adult life I grew up with names like Bruce Richardson, Bob Kevern, Jane Neubauer and Rollie SponGberg. I have met them all and grew to respect them as fine people and for their high standards at work. No offense is meant to any current, past, or future Rockford TV news people, but the news is different today, and so is the reporting and not necessarily to the good. I still remember when you could say “God” on the air but not “hell.” Now it’s the other way around. I submit the following.

Back in the 1960s I had heard somewhere that Rockford’s TV news positions were called “mid-level.” In other words for those in mid-career ready to move up to the big time. That was downgraded a few years back to “entry level,” meaning that if you are just starting out in the news media industry, you come to Rockford. I had also heard somewhere that the U.S. Department of Corrections sends prison inmates directly to Rockford upon their release…..but I’m sure there isn’t any connection. We rarely turn our TV on anymore. When we do, it’s usually to see local news.

After 40 years of watching the same three local channels, I have noticed the mid-to-entry level change. First, the amount of real reporting that needs to be done is not being done for a city our size. I imagine that reporters can’t justify putting two weeks into a story if all they are allowed is one 15-second slot to report it. Both quantity and quality lack because of this.

Second, I think the owners of the stations allow too small a time fraction to the news. It is a running joke around our house that at 5 and 6 p.m. we watch “five minutes of local news.” Our local news stations give us compressed local news so they have time to give us compressed national news. All they end up doing is regurgitating national stories straight off the wire that are covered ad nocumentum by the “national news” at the next half hour. I’ve always been of the opinion that local news is supposed to be for local news.

I’m sure that these problems are not exclusive to our three stations, but it is still pretty sad to think that so much happens in a city of 150,000 that goes unreported. Be that as it may, I have taught myself to ignore the brevity and the errors. Once in a while, though, I come across a story that is so chock full of holes that it is practically invisible. The following story on anthrax detection equipment was recently reported on WIFR-TV, channel 23. To me, it perfectly illustrated the internal organ failure suffered by Rockford’s entry market TV news media.

“It also killed several people…..” Since the story is about the post office’s new machines, I wanted to know how many postal employees had been killed by anthrax. According to Michelle Zyvert, Rockford public relations director for the postal service, two postal employees in D.C. died two years ago. I’m sure everyone will agree with me that one person is too many, and I applaud whatever the U.S.P.S. is willing to do to protect their employees in the future. However, if no one has died or gotten ill in the last two years, do we still need the equipment? Apparently the postal service thinks so. They applied to the medical profession two years ago for the testing machinery. They have just now received the equipment. There are plans to install the machines in 14 announced locations for 30 days. I only hope that “anthrax mailers” don’t watch the news or we will be in real trouble.”….and cost the federal government millions of dollars” The federal government does not have any money of their own. It’s yours and it’s mine when we pay taxes but at no time during the process does it become “theirs.”

The time for Americans to point this out to government is long overdue. Shame on media for making it sound otherwise time after time. There are two proper names mentioned in this article. Both without substantiation. Who is Field? Who is Stephen? By the by, when Field says “Our vulnerability was we’ll know” I really scratch my head.

Anthrax occurs naturally in Rockford??? Since when? I wanted to know ,so I called Jim Fraley, Livestock Program director of the Illinois Farm Bureau, who tells me that “Illinois has not had an outbreak of naturally occurring anthrax since the late 1920s.” Maybe the reporter meant that the band Anthrax is playing in Rockford, naturally.

“Rockford postal employees were also open to the idea, which of course helps.” Helps WHAT? Help yourself to more potatoes? Help the needy?

Now I will go back to ignoring the errors and the fact that I only get five minutes of local news. Rockford has been selling itself short for years, and the current local TV news is a symptom. I sincerely hope that we revisit being a mid-level market. But as a result of our entry level status, the chances of dying from laughter during the news are 99.9 percent greater than dying from anthrax.

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