Talk Radio Will Die Without Local Journalists

July 12, 2010

This is because journalists are the most important link in the news food chain. Let me explain:

I had this realization a couple of days ago while I was listening to a talk radio program. Somehow, the topic of daily routines came up, and the talk show host decided to describe his own. Each day when he wakes up, the first thing that he does is go outside and grab the daily newspaper off of his porch. Then he starts looking through it for interesting stories. After this, if he has time, he might browse the Internet for a little while, hoping to find a few more interesting stories, without a doubt also originally generated by a newspaper reporter somewhere in the world. He does this every day; and you know why? Because otherwise, he wouldn’t have anything to talk about on his show.

Now perhaps it should seem obvious, but just at that moment I realized that newspaper journalists are the backbone of talk radio, that talk radio simply cannot survive without them. Of course! As I continued listening, I thought back to the points that I made in [I Will Never Pay for “News Aggregation.” Would You?] about the difference between journalism and news aggregation. I started to visualize a sort of “news food-chain” at work here in which nutrients—in the form of fresh, original stories—are passed from the beat reporters at the bottom of the food chain up to the newspapers and then up to the radio talk show hosts. But honestly, this isn’t even really just about talk radio’s dependence on newspapers, is it? The entire news reporting and aggregation system which includes local television stations, cable networks, Google news, NPR, blogs, weekly news magazines, etc. is all involved in this elaborate chain in which individual journalists—not pundits, but real every day beat reporters—are the most basic and most important link.

I think that it’s easy to forget just how essential this primary step in the process of getting news to the people is, especially when we are confronted daily  with a huge block of media coming at us from all directions that seems to have its own independent existence. We can be fooled into thinking that all of the derivative forms of news—from television, to blogs, and so on—can survive on their own. But while these media perform important services by organizing and commenting on news, they can’t survive without basic journalism, just as the higher species in the food chain can’t survive without the lower ones. Real journalism is that essential. If we don’t find a way to monetize the profession of finding and reporting on stories (journalism), the repercussions will be felt throughout the entire system, not just on the level of local news.

Think outside the newsstand,
Joe

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