Boomer Voices: Journalism is going downhill, not up

How many different ways can a baby boomer say it? The world has changed, the past is history, the good old days are gone. In this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs looks at the business in which he proudly worked all his life, and has the same laments.

I spent my life working in network television news. In its heyday, between its quality and its reach, I was glad to be a part of it. Today, I’m glad I’m now talking about it in the past tense.

It’s a painful admission. But I’m not proud of where my business has gone. We all suffer because of it.

Greg Dobbs

In the good old days, TV news was a dependable force to be reckoned with. At the two networks for which I worked, we covered the world and, within the limits of a broadcast, we did it pretty well. But thanks to the proliferation of internet-based news organizations (some honorable, some not) and the consequent loss of audience for any one news outlet and the resultant cuts in ad revenue for almost everyone in the news business, those good old days are gone.

The mainstream media today still serves a purpose but— in terms of both quality and reach— it’s a shadow of its former self. Part of that was brought on by the inescapable consequence of cuts, which are common to broadcast, print, and internet newsrooms alike. But some was brought on by the endeavors of news organizations to reinvent themselves, which many haven’t done very well. Especially in broadcasting. Too many focus groups, too little focus on what matters. The unmentioned motto of many local news organizations is, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

The upshot of that is, people often get too much of what they want to know and not enough of what they need to know.

Which brings me to an op-ed written in The Denver Post this week by the senior congressional representative from Colorado, Democrat Diana DeGette, who bemoans the national equivalent of “If it bleeds, it leads,” namely, political coverage of the eye-catching over the constructive.

Congresswoman DeGette

In her commentary, she points to the most recent case (which surely will soon be eclipsed), the “inexcusable” Islamophobic remarks of another Colorado congresswoman, Republican Lauren Boebert. “With all the very serious issues facing our country,” DeGette declared, “the last thing any of us should be focused on right now is her childish, hate-filled behavior. With the constitutional right to seek an abortion under attack and a potentially dangerous new variant of the coronavirus now spreading around the globe… not one, not two, but four pages of the newspaper I opened were dedicated to Boebert’s outrageous remarks.”

She went on to cite some “bright spots of bipartisanship” that, contrary to the conduct of a bomb-thrower like Boebert, don’t even make their way to any page at all. For example, a bill the Colorado Democrat co-sponsored with a Michigan Republican to create an advanced research agency to cure diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more. And another, a bipartisan bill to help alleviate the pressure frontline health care workers are feeling from the pandemic. Another, a bill to prevent major corporations from “venue shopping” for a favorable bankruptcy judge. And another, to help protect credit unions.

But as DeGette wrote, “When a lawmaker makes a racist, bigoted remark or says something that is ensured to inflame tensions throughout this country, it is often shared, repeated, reposted and reprinted by major news outlets across the nation.” However, when these beneficial bipartisan bills and others like them make their way through Congress, she laments, “Not a peep.”

More’s the pity. Even though there are legislators on both sides of the aisle who are actually working to make our lives better, we hear little or nothing about it because… well, the Lauren Boeberts of the world drown them out. And they do it through the media’s megaphone.

In a democracy— and this is true for Democrats and Republicans alike—we need to know what politicians are doing in Congress or the Statehouse or City Hall so that we can make intelligent choices come each election day. There’s no debate about that. But I’d argue that we also need to know what firebrands like Boebert are doing because, if a member of Congress has a following beyond the borders of his or her district, as she does, then when she spouts her repugnant rhetoric— or sends a holiday photo showing her surrounded by her four young sons in front of a Christmas tree, each holding an assault-style weapon— she is speaking and acting as we nowadays painfully understand for millions of Americans.

Boebert… kids… guns.

We need to know— and this too is true for both sides of the aisle— because there is nothing more dangerous than failing to understand how the other side thinks.

It’s not clear whether Congresswoman DeGette is advocating some sort of values-based censorship by the mainstream media, or just more balance between the thoughtful and the titillating. In my view, there’s a place for coverage of bipartisanship bills and Boebert’s behavior. What we don’t want is having journalists decide what’s worthy and what’s not, who’s good and who’s not. The news you don’t get one day because it comes from a dangerous demagogue might be the news you need the next.

In those good old days, the mainstream media (which was pretty much all we had) saw public service, and the transmission of information, as priority number one. Cover every issue, hear all sides, let the public figure it out.

Those good old days are gone. Only the news organizations themselves can bring them back. Until and unless that happens, I’ll still be glad to think about my own proud years in the news business in the past tense.

5 Comments

  1. The media needs to stop covering the outrageous attention seekers unless there’s a really good reason we need to know. Regurgitating the same news repeatedly is so frustrating, if there isn’t enough news without repeating the same old things look outside your own narrow window into the rest of the world. I’d guarantee you’ll find engaging, mind expanding news!

  2. I still haven’t adjusted to commercial breaks interrupting the television news. I was stunned by this when I returned in the late 70’sfrom living abroad. Nowadays, I have a choice between CNN where reporters unfortunately tend to beat an idea to death and BBC where the content might not be relevant to me at the moment. If I turn for escape to the Lifetime channel (babies, hoarders, little people, mystery diagnosis, ER docs saving lives), I used to find an escape of sorts but now the programs are inundated by commercials for skin creams, medicare and medicine pitches, plastic surgery options, etc. Typically, I give up after a few minutes. I have not found an alternative to the good ole trusty NYT which no one younger than us reads much anymore. I’m generally a person who embraces change, but that too seems to be changing.

  3. Hmmmmm. 4 people holding semi-auto rifles typically used for hunting and home defense. All weapons pointed in a safe direction, no fingers inside trigger guards. Seems like the kids are being properly trained (as I was at that age) in the safe and respectful way to handle a firearm, something else sadly lacking in our country. Although I have to comment, in my youth the only picture taken with a firearm was in the field with the game animal the individual took; possible exception might be a Christmas or birthday gift. Today those pictures seem more of a political statement, which I abhor; like a concealed carry, those statements should be private, not bandied about like you’re advertising something. If you want a weapon, for whatever reason, own one intelligently (or not at all). If you don’t, then don’t. Don’t make a political statement out of it.
    Sorry for the rant. I didn’t intend to ramble, it just happened.

    1. Hmm. Four CHILDREN holding weapons in front of a Christmas tree. Explain to me how that is “putting the Christ back in Christmas”? To me it’s typical of the BS that these sham Christians and “evangelicals” espouse. Look out Boebert and those of your ilk, karma can be a bitch.

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