Is Michael J. Copps the superhero TV news needs to become relevant again?

Michael J. Copps, one of the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission, is proposing a change to broadcast licensing procedures that would apply a “public value test,” when considering license renewal, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Diversity in programming is suffering, minorities are underrepresented and local talent gets overlooked. In his words, American journalism is in “grave peril.” Copps believes broadcast journalism has strayed from what it once was and reforms may be in order.

America is not “producing the body of news and information that democracy needs to conduct its civic dialogue,” he told a BBC reporter. He said it much nicer than I would have.

From the New York Times:

The test, he said, “would get us back to the original licensing bargain between broadcasters and the people: in return for free use of airwaves that belong exclusively to the people, licensees agree to serve the public interest as good stewards of a precious national resource.”

It’s hard for me to break down his speech because I’m having a hard time finding the complete transcript online, but what it looks like to me, from reading the NYT story and Los Angeles Times coverage, is a call for more real news on TV and radio. Something explanatory. Something that reports without the liberal bias of MSNBC and the ultra-right insanity of Fox News. Something that gets consumers engaged without the shock value.

I always cringe when I’m on assignment and people come up to me and say they don’t watch the news because it’s too biased. I always tell them if they’re watching it on TV, they’re probably not watching news at all. I tell them they’re watching a mix of commentary and entertainment about current events (Then I suggest they download the BBC Global News podcast and stop watching TV altogether).

But it’s true. TV news, even locally, looks to present you with whatever will keep your attention longest, at any cost. You’ll always see a lead story about a topic you’re guaranteed to have some kind of visceral reaction to, not because it’s the story that will actually have the most impact of your life, but because it’s that story that you’ll watch to see more of.

Less than 30 secs (22 to be exact) are devoted to local government in the average local newscast.  If it bleeds it leads, right? But where’s the public value in that?

And as much as they don’t like to admit it, many TV new reporters are just good entertainers good at convincing parachute journalism using the broadcast news equivalent of the Coca-Cola formula for story presentation.

Unfortunately for news consumers, it’s a lot easier to turn on the TV than it is to pick up a paper or find others reports online.

Broadcasters are blowing up the airwaves reaching thousands. So with that great power, comes great responsibility.

Copps calls the proposed reforms a renewed commitment to serious news and journalism.  The new guidelines would look for “meaningful commitments” to news and public affairs programming, increased local content and outlined plans for news coverage during disasters. He wants stations to disclose the interest groups behind political ads and a make an effort to break down the issues during election years. The licenses would last four years instead of eight and broadcasters would have a year-long probationary period if the fail the test when it’s time to renew.

A refreshing sounding outlook isn’t it?

Critics of the proposal should start coming out next week.

Additional Coverage published this morning: The New York Times Media Decoder Blog

“If it bleeds it leads, but if it’s democracy’s lifeblood, let it hemorrhage,” Michael J. Copps, FCC Commissioner

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1 comment
  1. I think that a major problem with today’s popular journalism is that most people don’t really care about important things. I think people saying that the news is too bias is a cop out way of saying “I’d rather watch Two and a Half Men” reruns than have to figure out what my city council is doing.

    Sure there are tons of talking heads spinning news, especially nationally and on cable networks, but there are MANY good news resources out there that are free. Unfortunately, most of the best ones are targeted toward the people who are interested rather than the general public. You can argue which came first.. the dumbing and politicizing of down of news or the public desire for dumb, political entertainment-news hybrid.

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