On Saturday October 17, 2009, about 50 Wichitans met in front of Wichita’s KSN Television studio to express their concerns about the state of news media. The event was part of a national protest named “Can you hear us now?” Locally, the South Central Kansas 9.12 Group promoted the event.
Jason Kravarik, KSN News Director addressed the group. The crowd was contentious at first, but after emotions cooled a bit, a more constructive dialog emerged.
Kravarik stressed that KSN is a local news organization. It is affiliated with NBC News, but KSN employees are not employees of NBC. The focus of KSN is local news, not national. When national news stories appear on KSN, they’re furnished by NBC.
Someone in the crowd asked: “Why don’t you correct the national news?”
Kravarik replied that KSN covers national news as it affects Wichita. KSN can’t send reporters to Washington.
The crowd was critical of KSN’s news coverage of the Wichita tea parties. It’s possible that KSN may have broadcast a mistake when counting the number of attendees in its coverage of one of the tea parties. But by and large, KSN has covered the Wichita tea parties. As Kravarik mentioned, this website (WichitaLiberty.org) holds several references to KSN’s coverage. (See Wichita tax day tea party preview on KSN news and Wichita Tea Party News Coverage on KSN Television for examples.)
He also told the group that KSN provides no opinion or commentary, just coverage of local new stories.
One complaint from the audience was that KSN doesn’t provide advance notice of events like tea parties. Kravarik recommended that groups contact the station to make sure that reporters know of the event, and make contact well in advance of the date of the event — not just the day before.
(If I had been in Kravarik’s position, I might have said that local television news stations shouldn’t serve as advertising services for anyone.)
There was also mention of cable television news networks. Kravarik told the audience that based on the ratings success of Fox News with shows like The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC decided to counter with their own opinion-based shows like Keith Olbermann’s.
One speaker requested time for local exploration of national issues and how they will affect us locally in Wichita and the surrounding area.
Kravarik also mentioned that when local people do things with national impact, that’s something his station is interested in. But reporters need to be notified of such things.
One audience member said “The print media is useless, because people might see it, but it doesn’t register. You guys put stuff on the actual news on the television. People look at that television and take it as gospel, as bad as it is.”
Kravarik also mentioned that as events such as tea parties are repeated, they become less newsworthy: “By the time there’s a hundred of these, will they get as much coverage as day two, three, and four?”
He urged the group to get specific with its issues. Are there local people who are being negatively affected by a policy? Then it moves from the abstract to the concrete. It then becomes a new story idea.
In response to a question about the economics of news, Kravarik mentioned that his station is struggling, as are all stations, due to loss of advertising revenue.
While the protesters complained that the issues they’re concerned about are not being covered, somehow the members of the group are informed about them. So the news must be getting out somehow. I believe this points to the diversity of news sources available today, largely due to the Internet.
Some of the protesters were complaining to the wrong person. One person complained about the reporting of the count of protesters at the September 12 protest event in Washington. Regardless of the merits of the complaint, Kravarik’s news station didn’t cover that event.
The plea for attention is understandable. But if KSN gives more attention to issues and events that are important to the protesters, we would expect other interest groups to insist on increased coverage of their issues.
The criticism of print media by one person is mistaken, I believe. One of the important differences between print journalism and television journalism is breadth and depth of coverage. Print media — Internet too — has the space to cover issues in depth. The daily television news broadcast doesn’t.
Some people asked why doesn’t local news media explain issues like the “Fair Tax” or the Federal Reserve system. This is more like educational programming, which network television has rarely embraced, as it doesn’t produce ratings. Public television is more likely to provide this type of programming. An important advance in just the past year or two is the rise of Internet video services like YouTube, which contains many educational videos.
There’s also the issue of “What is the truth?” While I am largely sympathetic with the political views of the protesters at this event, there are other groups that are just as firmly convinced that their version of the world is the truth.
Perception, too, plays a large role in opinion of news coverage. The Wall Street Journal has a reputation as a bastion of conservatism. But a UCLA study in 2005 found that “the newspaper’s news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times.”
As an example of how truth and perception can vary from person to person, I would be happy to make any readers a DVD of the video I captured of this event, on the condition that they write their own news coverage or commentary. (Or maybe create video or audio coverage and commentary.) I’ll then post it here.