25 Years Later – What’s New in the News Biz?
A couple of weeks ago I realized it will be 25 years ago next fall that I left the radio business. In November of 1992 I resigned from what was then 96 K-Lite Radio in Edmonton (now Capital FM) after spending almost 12 years there and 15 years in radio.
I felt it was time to move on to something else and I could also see that radio news, as I knew it then, wouldn’t last that much longer. I was right. There are some major differences with the radio news business today. It likely has changed more than the news found on TV and in newspapers.
Some things are much the same though. The more things change the more they stay the same sort of thing. Here are my three biggest differences with news coverage now from 25 years ago.
Social Media Now Leads
The biggest single effect on the traditional news business is social media. One evening last month, the CTV Edmonton 6pm newscast led with a reported tornado in Ponoka, which is about a 90-minute drive south of Edmonton. The skies got dark in the late afternoon and by 5pm Twitter and Facebook were filled with videos and photos of what appeared to be a tornado. CTV didn’t have time to get a reporter to the area, so it started its newscast by sharing the Twitter videos and images.
I found it interesting because it was clear that the CTV station was totally reliant on social media to report the news. Citizen journalists were doing the work of paid reporters. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but it was fascinating to see how much traditional media needed social media, at least in this case.
This past weekend there was flooding in Fort McMurray. On Monday morning, the only video CTV News Channel was showing was from a cell phone shot by a viewer. There was no report from the scene and not even video shot by a local CTV camera operator. Another sign of deep cuts in newsrooms in Canada.When you can no longer deliver the news, people will find other ways to get it, so once again score one for social media.
When the terrible shooting of over a dozen police officers took place in Dallas this summer, before it was even reported that somebody had shot several officers, there was raw video of the shooting on Twitter. The details then followed about what had happened, but it was a clear case of social media getting at least part of the scoop and getting in front of mainstream news coverage. There are many other examples of this.
In fact, when news breaks I no longer go to CNN, or CBC. I go to Twitter or elsewhere on the internet because chances are the story will be there. I was with my daughter the night Muhammad Ali died and she told me about it seconds after she read about it on Facebook. I then went to Twitter for confirmation instead of a traditional station’s newsfeed. Last year I read a stat that said 63% of people on Twitter and Facebook get their news there. It’s kind of a sad statistic, but it does seem to be reality.
It’s clear that social media can get the story out much quicker than traditional media. The facts aren’t always right, there’s more opinion than is often needed, but more and more we’re seeing traditional media rely upon social media as a news source.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise when you understand the long list of newsmakers and high profile organizations traditional media follows on social media. It’s no longer necessary to send out a long news release. A simple short Facebook post or comment on Twitter can give the media a solid news story, or at least a great lead from any newsmaker.
Thinner Daily Newspapers
Although daily newspapers look similar to 25 years ago, there are sharp differences. The biggest visual difference is thinner newspapers because so much advertising has gone to digital media and other ad sources.
In Canada, the Postmedia merger has resulted in Postmedia’s former broadsheet dailies like the Edmonton Journal and Ottawa Citizen sharing reporters with the former Sun chain of newspapers. This has often resulted in the same story being covered by the same reporter and it appearing in both papers. Big differences that used to be seen in the Sun newspapers are slowly being eliminated and the result is the same product in a different wrapping.
To me it’s been a tremendous blow to journalism in this country. For a generation we had reporters at rival newspapers in large cities competing to get stories and their readers got the benefit. Now when I read the same story in Sunday’s Edmonton Sun that I read the day before in the Edmonton Journal, I wondered why I bought the Sun. As a result, I don’t buy it very often anymore.
One other point I do want to make is the strength of weekly newspapers. While daily papers struggle, weeklies across Canada are generally doing quite well. That’s because they have news in the papers that you can’t get anywhere else, including the internet. Generally speaking, nobody covers local news in smaller communities other than weekly papers and it’s making a big difference in their readership and bottom lines.
Video Killed the Radio Star
While local television newscasts look much the same as they did 25 years ago, except for more live news coverage, another big difference is the amount of news on radio, or lack thereof.
News has virtually disappeared on FM radio. At one time in the 1980’s there was almost as much news on FM stations as major AM outlets. Now it’s rare to find news on FM and it’s also slowly been creeping off AM as well, other than on all news stations and talk stations. The internet and social media are the biggest reasons for the change, but government regulations have also played a major role. At one time the CRTC (Canadian government) basically forced FM stations to air hours of news and public affairs programming each week if they wanted to keep their licences. When the CRTC backed off, so did the amount of news on FM. When the CRTC backed off even more, news disappeared.
I decided to leave radio 25 years ago to try something new and also because I could see that radio news as I knew it wouldn’t last. FM newsrooms were being gutted. With reduced news commitments for FM stations, reporters and other newspeople were shown the door. Fast forward to last summer when I received a text from a friend of mine while I was on holidays with my family to let me know that another FM station had wiped out its last bit of news programming. He said nobody else on FM in Edmonton was really doing news either. News was gone on FM radio in the city I live in.
Maybe there’s little reason for news to be on FM stations. There are other places to find out what’s going on. I do know when I was in the business, thousands of people in Edmonton got their information from our radio station and from our FM competitors. Now they don’t have that option.
I’m not one for hanging onto the past, but to me traditional media news organizations (newspapers, television, radio and magazines) are not as strong as they were 25 years ago. At a time when it seems so many things now are better than in the past, I don’t think you can say the same thing about the newspaper you read, the TV station you watch, or the radio station you listen to when it comes to the news coverage they deliver.
I just wonder what we’ll be saying about the news biz in another 25 years.
Remember when CHED radio used to pay $1000 for the best news tip of the year in the 1970's? And in the 1980's one could be a 'CTV Newshawk' with their portable VHS tape recorder, and they paid a contributor a sum of money if their video was used?