The News Media is Failing, But Not Why You Think

EASTSIDER-I’ve been watching all the news channels like the political junkie that I am, and even with the headache this caused, it suddenly occurred to me that they really are to blame for a lot of our current political mess. 

They all regurgitate the same few stories, all day long, reinforcing each other, and in the process we the people get very little real investigative news stories about what our government entities are actually doing to us. 

Consider this. We know in LA that there is very little by the way of real local news stories in our LA media market, and at the same time we know that there are a LOT of things going on. Out of all the meetings of the City Council and Board of Supervisors and LAUSD, LAPD and County Sheriff, almost everything they do is not covered by local TV, radio and/or print media. 

Why? Because it would cost too much. Just look at any edition of CityWatch. However hinky some of our illustrious contributors are, there is more real local news in any CityWatch news cycle than in all the local mass media put together. 

So, what seems to happen is that all the national media pick up on the same half a dozen stories, then repeatedly beat them to death all day and all night long. The local stations pick up on their stories and mindlessly repeat clips from them on the local news. 

Doesn’t costs much. Add in the weather, traffic and sports, plus an “entertainment” story or two, and that’s about it for all the local TV channels, radio segments, and even the bulk of the print media for any given day. 

It’s really too bad, especially since the LA Times has some awesome reporters on staff, but investigative reporting is time-consuming, and good reporters and their necessary support system is expensive. 

What Do We Get? 

I have written before about Tweets, and the truth is that they mostly contain one declarative sentence, and/or a compound declarative sentence, if you want to be technical. A declarative sentence, or fragment thereof, simply makes an assertion. 

I know, I know, who pays attention to English grammar? Well, I still remember the ruler Sister Mary Agnatius had back in the day, so I guess some of her lessons have stuck with me. 

With that in mind, tweets are great for making assertions, but not so good for context or content.  Personally, I find the best tweets are those that link to a video, or a graphic, or an article. That’s because the links provide context, where you can figure out more if you are willing to be bothered. 

The cool thing about tweets if you’re in the Commercial News Business, is that they are absolutely free! Wow. And since you already have on staff a bunch of independent contractor Talking Heads, plus the overpaid Anchor Talent, Viola! 

So, add together the tweets, cobble together a half dozen or so “news segments” with an Anchor and a big panel or panels of talking heads, and you have over half of the entire news that we are fed.  Kinda like feed for the livestock. 

Just to make it look like there is a lot of real news happening, you also pick a few special deals of the day, like Manafort’s trial, some legislation that might actually pass Congress, a scandal or two, and mix with the latest travesty -- killings, forest fires, high level international meetings and the like, and there you have it -- mostly covered by a handful of folks from Reuters, AP and their brethren, and then endlessly repeated to fill out the menu. 

No wonder voters are turned off. Whether its Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC, it’s mostly the same few stories endlessly beat to death by the never-ending panels of “experts.” By the time they are done telling us what demographic group we each fit into, they themselves are doing a heck of a lot more in actually shaping our opinions than any will admit to. 

Don’t even get me started on “polling.” Most people I know hang up on them, and I wouldn’t bet a dime on the actual statistical accuracy of most of this stuff. A real solid poll is time-consuming and expensive, and we all know that’s out the door these days. 

The Takeaway 

Unfortunately, this clogging of the airways is unlikely to change anytime soon, unless and until enough people simply start tuning them out. Oh wait, that’s already happening, isn’t it? 

So, what is going to supplement or replace all this? In addition to CityWatch and some very good local sources, here are some of my favorite real news sources:OpenSecrets, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Center for Public Integrity, Open Media, Center for Responsive Politics, ICU (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), Capital & Main, just to name a few. Full disclosure, I have to admit that it helps to be semi-retired. 

The internet is still quite useful if you are careful -- I use a news aggregator called Feedly to track around 50-60 news sources on a daily basis, and if you move beyond MS Edge, Google, Yahoo, and Bing for your search engine, there’s a wide world out there.  Heck, give DuckDuckGo, the Vivaldi browser and Tor a shot. 

We live in the best of times as well as the worst of times. With all these resources out there, consider moving beyond mainstream media and give independent thinking a shot!


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.