Most folks fifty or older fondly remember the ritual of the family dinner. They remember them because, what with working late and rushing kids to and from school events, they rarely have family dinners themselves.
Dinners containing items from all the food groups have been replaced by McDonald’s Happy Meals.
In the 60s and 70s there used to be real conversation around the dinner table … at least until 6:30, which was when the national news came on. Then the only television in the house, resting on a rickety metal stand, would be wheeled around in order to allow Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley to chat with the family.
When the news was over and the kids ran out to play, parents had coffee while reading the afternoon edition of the daily paper. Opinions were formed on evening walks where adults actually discussed real issues with other adults.
Today’s media marketplace has changed dramatically. It should not be surprising that the majority of adult Americans probably can’t name a single network news anchor. Most evenings, while the kids are in the back seat of the mini-van snarfing down pre-soccer practice French fries, their parents are listening to a Toy Story DVD for seemingly the seven hundredth time.
Times have certainly changed.
The new media marketplace
For years, Kentucky politicians hated to get a phone call from Al Cross, a tough political reporter who crafted questions with the skill of a master chef preparing a five-star meal. Today’s Bluegrass politicians are thankful that Cross is no longer reporting on the daily political beat. He is the Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky, a group with the mission of insuring that weekly newspapers don’t go the way of Huntley and Brinkley.
Two years ago, while preparing for a panel on media and the 2008 election, Cross planted a very simple theory in my head about opinion and the 24-hour news cycle.
According to Cross, in the glory days of nightly news, Americans watched television and read newspapers in order to form opinions. Today, they form an opinion first and then choose a news outlet to reinforce their pre-established political point-of-view. There are so many resources to choose from that traditional news sources are becoming more and more irrelevant.
I believe that the decline in print media can be laid squarely at the sex-poodle paws of Al Gore (a theory not supported by Cross, or anyone else for that matter). Had Gore not invented the internet, Crate & Barrel would still be buying advertising in my hometown newspaper instead of The Daily Caller.
Which brings us to …
Juan Williams and the NPR Bailout
This past week America has been engrossed with National Public Radio’s axing of Juan Williams. Radio stations fire talent every day. As outrageous as the firing may be, incompetence on the part of NPR’s executive leadership team is not unlawful.
Except NPR isn’t just any radio station. It’s a corporation funded, in part, by tax dollars.
If left to find its own sources of revenue in today’s opinion-driven, multi-media marketplace, NPR would likely die a quick death. Advertisers won’t buy time on progressive talk radio. If they did, Al Franken would still be making jokes on radio, instead of the floor of the Senate.
So, if the government is going to fund NPR, let’s just call that funding what it is…a bail-out of radio journalism.
The government bailed out Wall Street, banks, and the automobile industry. Hell, maybe they should bail out radio journalism, too.
And while we’re at it, my publisher would like to have the government buy all my unsold novels, bundle them up and sell them on the secondary market. We can call it “Cash for Consonants” — the government will throw in the vowels for free.
If you compare the annual NPR bailout and the journalists employed by those funds to the cost per job created by President Obama’s various stimulus packages, it’s probably a good deal.
Or, not. A friend of mine told me the other day that, although he felt no ill will for Juan Williams, he had no tears for him either. Juan has a new seven-figure job at Fox. My friend is a former print journalist who wrote for a newspaper that went belly up.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.