March 24, 2009

Harriet Lloyd: News Not Fit to Print or Newsmakers Not Fit to Cover?

Engaged Citizen

Amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth, national and local newspapers bemoan dwindling readership and diminishing profits, with many closing their doors, unable to make ends meet. While the demise of the Fourth Estate is a shame, it is hardly a shocker. When a business consistently misdirects its marketing, it must expect to pay dire consequences. While most businesses would rapidly move to staunch financial bleeding by changing strategy, such appears not to be the case among Rhode Island's print and television media.

Here, newspapers are losing their fight for survival for a reason that is fairly simple to objective observers. Citizens seeking high-quality, unbiased information, as well as thorough coverage of important events, no longer expect to find it in Rhode Island's newspapers or network programming. Instead, our media is saturated with third-grade level, tabloid-type material, "lightweight" news often gleaned from syndicated sources. Replete with bald-faced political propaganda, inarticulate reporting and an abundance of advertising, Rhode Island's media have buckled under to political pressure and pandered to society's lowest denominator — and then have blamed their lack of popularity on the Internet.

While the Web is a force with which newspapers must now reckon, Americans still enjoy news in hard copy; many would maintain subscriptions merely for convenience if they found the contents worthy. Disgusted and hungry for real information, they are forced to turn to the Internet and radio for the "down and dirty." No matter what political stripe, age, race, or religious affiliation, people in increasing numbers are turning away from their newspapers, finding them less and less relevant and reliable. The trust is gone.

Take a recent example from Newport. Governor Carcieri, General Treasurer Frank Caprio, Department of Administration Director Gary Sasse, and Bill Murphy of the East Providence Taxpayers Association addressed a ballroom packed with taxpayers concerned about the state's financial crisis. With them were twenty state senators and representatives, as well as mayors of the state's major cities and towns. Sponsored by a non-partisan group, the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, the free Saturday morning forum at the Newport Hyatt Regency was broadly advertised to the media; press releases were circulated repeatedly in the weeks prior to the event. News personnel would have had to be living under a granite boulder not to have been aware of it.

As a capacity crowd of over 250 Rhode Islanders embraced the opportunity to interact with their government leaders and to make their voices heard, not one newspaper reporter attended — not even those most local. For more than two hours, one could have heard a pin drop as Rhode Island leaders — Democrats, Independents and Republicans — spoke candidly about their concerns, frustrations and the steps being taken to address our most serious economic challenges. Among their concerns was incomplete and inaccurate reporting. Following their remarks, they entertained questions and comments from citizens in a rare, intimate discussion. Democracy was at its finest that morning, but no stories appeared in newspapers. Among the television news stations, only Channel 12 was present; all other television news programs were conspicuous by their absence. Indeed, the only place to find a full, accurate recording of the morning's events is on Web sites, as the event was streamed live and videotaped.

The irony was obvious to all in attendance: Rhode Island's media market was alive and well in the Hyatt ballroom that morning; where was the media? Present were citizens who were interested, informed, and educated about the crucial issues facing the state. These were the very people most likely to read newspapers, contribute letters and opinion columns, and tune in to high-quality news programming. They were the individuals most likely to influence and finance media consumption in Rhode Island. They were voters, business owners, the unemployed, college students, school board members, town councilors, young couples, and retirees. Once again, they were disregarded by their state and local news people.

Is it any wonder that online news sources, e-newsletters and radio programs are replacing newspapers? Sadly, traditional media simply doesn't get it: there exists a considerable market for literate, fair, and thorough journalism. Media leaders can whine about the Internet, but if they will not provide news of substance and quality, Rhode Islanders surely will find it elsewhere.

Harriet Lloyd is Vice President and Secretary of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I agree with Harriet. I actually get my news from RISCy and Anchor Rising, then I might look at other news outlets on the web.

Posted by: kathy at March 24, 2009 10:47 AM

Blame it on big media, be it A.H. Belo or the conglomerates who own the local TV and radio stations. They cut their staffing to the point that readers, viewers and advertisers have all voted with their feet.
Who knows, maybe the Phoenix will soon be the print outlet of record.

Posted by: rhody at March 24, 2009 4:41 PM


I agree that it's a shame the Journal didn't cover your event. I'm sure it was a nice time.

Now, I live in MIddletown and I work in Newport and frankly I can't stand our local daily paper.

And while I am sure that there are scores of people in town who know what RISC is, I can honestly say that I don't fault the local media for not covering it. And if I really think about it, I can't fault the Journal either.

We are all aware of our financial crisis. Treasurer Caprio has been on the record before about pension reform. The governor is a broken record. And how many more articles do I have to read or tv reports do I have to see about the East Providence Taxpayers group?

From what I read in Justin's post, there was simply not much news there except that a bunch of people turned out. And unfortunately, it was probably a bunch of people who see each other regularly at other like events.

From a statewide perspective, Caprio's appearance alongside a group admonishing the Democratic-controlled General Assembly is probably the most tantalizing lure, but from the local perspective, I don't see a hook.

So, you've been left between a rock and a hard place: the journal should provide coverage simply for the political theater of it all, but doesn't for their own reasons. The locals, meanwhile aren't interested because for Newport, it's just another conference, and all the "heavyweight news" that comes out of it has already been reported.

I've done more than my share of PR, and I have to say, I don't think that insulting the efforts of journalists, who are generally overworked and sorely underpaid (I know, I used to be one) is any way to sell a story idea. Perhaps in the future, it would be wise to reach out directly to individual reporters or editors. If there is a local angle, then make it known.

Call me crazy, but I don't think that droning on about the incompetent or inarticulate reporting of our local media is any way to secure coverage for future events.

A final thought: RISC may be non-partisan, but it is hardly A-political. I think you might agree that there is a fine line between reporting on news and pushing propaganda. I don't remember the Journal or any local papers covering any other special interest group's "Annual Winter Meeting" either. Until that happens, I'm not sure you have much to be upset about.

If you really want change, then get some people elected into office. The rest is just vanity.

Posted by: anonymous at March 24, 2009 4:46 PM


I get the feeling that if this event was covered and reported by the state's largest newspaper in place of this engaged citizen's comments there would be criticism of the coverage. What's pathetic though is Kathy's admission that she "gets her news" from a political group and this blog.

Posted by: Phil at March 25, 2009 6:22 AM

Wait, so the impending doom of the projo has less to do with the fact that the same information is available online than the 250 people that would buy the paper if it were less Oprahfied? C'mon, guys.

And Rhody, with Ian gone the Pheonix is just a lame article or two sandwiched between a collection of ads; it is only worth the price of purchase for live band listings. Pick up Motif, even Crowley manages some worthwhile perspective... occassionally.

Posted by: JP at March 25, 2009 10:58 AM
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