Wow, a local news tv station broadcasted a hard-hitting report about ALEC! (accompanying written story here) The station, kmtv in omaha, nebraska, reported on the relationship between the Voter ID bills being introduced in the Nebraska and Iowa legislatures and the model legislations spawned by ALEC. The highlight of the report occurs when the reporter asks a state senator on camera about whether the Voter ID bill that the legislator introduced came from ALEC. The legislator responds with an obvious untruth, and the well-prepared reporter starts a whithering cross-examination, pulling out point-by-point comparisons between the ALEC model and the legislator's bill. Each time the legislator lies, the reporter is forearmed with more contradicting info. At one point, the legislator's eye starts twitching. Perry Mason hardly got better than this.
Some additional comments about the current state of local tv news and the Voter ID/ALEC story, after a break for orange spagetti.
I stumbled into this piece when surfing for ALEC news. It interested me because its the contrast with the relative lameness of the stories of many local tv news outlets, including stations near me in the inland Pacific northwest.
Local tv news stations these days mostly serve up a bland diet of crime and pablum, you know: the daily street shooting followed by a high school athlete's fighting rehabilitation from car accident injuries. Investigative reporting of local/state government issues has been cut way back in many markets. The problem is that local tv news outfits are caught in a ferociously competitive war for ratings. Advertising revenues stagnate, costs are cut and cut again, consultants rule, anchors & producers are fired and hired every few months by stations in frantic bids to survive on the Red Queen treadmill that is local news. Reporters in small markets now carry their own cameras around, setting them up for self-cam stand-ups in front of the state house or wherever. Camera operators are a bygone luxury. And, reporters at these invariably understaffed stations have to churn out a large volume of stories & have no time to spend digging on any given one.
For me that local station's Voter ID/ALEC report prompts two main thoughts:
(1) Progressives could and should do more to help their local tv news stations focus better on important political issues in the upcoming election season. Here are some ideas for helping out; I hope more knowledgable Kossacks will add some more ideas in comments.
(a) Post comments on the stations' online websites. Most of the stations have established some sort of web presence, and most are inviting/encouraging listener feedback and involvement. "We at Action News want to know what you think", as you will hear on their broadcasts... take their invitations seriously! Unlike the conservative online forums, where contradictory information will get removed by moderators, the stations' forums will honor your posts, provided they are not indecent or libelous.
(b) Send story ideas to reporters. Many of the reporters in small markets are young and just starting out in their careers. Many unfortunately are quite uninformed about local and national issues (some likely have not heard of ALEC, for instance). The reporters are on fast deadlines and need need story ideas that can be worked up with just a few telephone/skype calls and internet searching. Travel for the reporters, even downtown to the government building, takes time, scheduling, and resources. Do some of the work for the reporters; provide links, phone numbers, etc. It is often not that the reporters are biased, but rather, the reporters are too stressed by deadlines and lack of resources to look under the surface of a story.
(c) Send critiques of stories to reporters and news directors, but gently temper criticisms of the stories with ideas about how to extend the stories with further reporting. A story, for instance about local militia which only features soft-toss interviews with militia members ("we are just trying to be ready if needed for rescues and natural disasters", etc.) might easily be extended to another story about the members' white supremacist online associations. Yesterday's broadcast is ancient history; the reporter needs concrete ideas for what to cover today and tomorrow.
(d) Many of the reporters are twittering nowadays, and servicing other social media as well. They really do not have the time for it, but the stations are being told by consultants that their reporters have to appear contemporary. Follow their sites and join in, gently pointing to information sources that the reporters & followers might not be aware of. Remember that the local tv stations are closely monitoring each other's tweets so that they will be alerted to any good news stories. So, if you are gifting a specific reporter with a story idea, keep it in email so as to keep it away from the reporter's competition.
(e) A key time for most local tv stations coming up is the month of May. It is a "sweeps" period, the month-long survey period of audience share, the main one before the November election (a sweeps of lesser importance happens in the summer). This period sets the advertising rates for the stations for the succeeding months. Stations get to keep all of their ad revenues for local news, unlike the revenues from ads during syndicated programming, which are shared with the affiliate networks. During the preceeding weeks in April, the stations work up their best feature and investigative reports that will be heavily promoted for the May sweeps. Ideas for stories of local interest with political impact that will attract many viewers are especially valuable to the stations then.
(f) Show the local tv news stories you enjoyed some love. Rec them up in social media. The stations monitor their online traffic closely, and hits on investigative news reports that you liked will encourage the stations to take more chances.
Local tv stations are a crucial battleground in elections. The Repubs are going to sponser a tidal wave of negative ads in the coming months about Obama and other Democratic candidates. The Repubs' money will be virtually unlimited, and their lies will be shameless. Local progressives need to watch closely and push back, hard, in any and every way possible. No lie must be allowed to go unrefuted. Letters and op-eds for the newspaper are great, but helping local tv news find the information they need to report accurately and timely on breaking political issues could be key.
& yes, I had promised above a second thought concerning that local news report about Voter ID/ALEC:
(2) It strikes me as amusingly odd that the state senator runs like crazy from ALEC in the interview with the reporter. If he is conservative, why is he not proud of his association, and of the fact that he is introducing ALEC-authored bills into the state legislature? What does he perceive about ALEC as being toxic to his voters?
5:27 PM PT: Thanks everyone for all the excellent suggestions for helping local tv news and for the insightful comments. The media war is coming. The Republicans are going to spend a billion dollars on this election. Romney, Santorum, it doesn't matter; the Repubs have signaled their strategy. They will saturate the airwaves with ads to drive up Democratic negatives, locally and nationally. No lie will be too outlandish. Bimbos by the dozen will erupt; illicit inter-racial children will appear; reports that Obama delayed the decision to kill Bin Laden to conduct a political poll will pop up again. The Republicans know what is at stake. They are Voter ID-ing, gerrymandering, electronic vote-machine-rigging. In the Repub-controlled states, Democratic neighborhoods will not be allocated sufficient voting machines and voters will have to wait in line for 8 hours. Local Democratic candidates, especially for the statehouses, will not know what hit them. I am not sure local and national Democratic Party organizers are ready for this fight. I fear they are bringing knives to a tank battle.
Countering the avalanche of lies at the local level is going to take vigilance and energy from everyone. We have much work ahead.