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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: media

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November 12, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Media experts in Seattle to warn of big money’s influence on elections

Media experts John Nichols and Robert McChesney are truly worried about the strength of American democracy.

We should listen to what they have to say. Then we must do something about it.

Last Friday, Bill Moyers interviewed the pair about those issues for his show on PBS:

In Seattle this week to promote their new book, “Dollaracracy,” the pair argue that our elections are increasingly influenced by money from the country’s richest individuals and corporations. Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation, and McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Chicago at Urbana-Champaign, also warn that broadcast media companies are now more focused on amassing stations and profits from political advertising than serving the public interest through robust local journalism. (Read my previous Opinion NW blog post with a visual of what media consolidation looks like.)

On Monday evening, the two spoke at Town Hall. They’ll continue their tour of Seattle Tuesday evening at the University of Washington at 7 p.m. in Kane Hall (Room 130). Here’s a link to more information about the UW event.

If you don’t get a chance to hear them in person in Seattle, watch our editorial page’s Nov. 4 Google+ Hangout On-Air with Nichols, McChesney, Seattle Times editorial writer Lance Dickie and Free Press President/CEO Craig Aaron. They offered their fascinating insights into the state of the media, big money’s influence on elections, growing concerns over privacy in the digital age, and how political campaigns have started to mine voter data.

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Comments | Topics: elections, fcc, john nichols

July 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Media consolidation continues with Tribune’s announced purchase of 19 TV stations

The Tribune Company must be doing okay after emerging from bankruptcy several months ago. The corporation’s leadership announced Monday they are purchasing 19 television stations from Local TV Holdings, LLC for $2.7 billion in cash. The sale is still subject to FCC approval.

I wonder whether Seattle viewers realize three of the five news stations in town are now in some stage of ownership change? Sinclair is buying Fisher Broadcasting (parent company of KOMO-TV). Gannett announced its intention to take over Belo (operator of KING 5). KCPQ-TV has been a Tribune property since 1998, but the local Fox affiliate may soon be part of a much larger conglomerate consisting of 42 television stations.

Our local channels — with the exception of Fisher and KCTS— have not been locally owned or independent for some time, but there’s still plenty to lament. I don’t mean to say the new owners have bad intentions or will drive down the quality of news. They may continue to produce great award-winning content. I really hope they do. But when large companies gobble up smaller entities, it generally leads to fewer diverse perspectives on the air and less opportunity for ownership by women and people of color. Take a look at the 2010 charts by the media watchdog group, Free Press. The situation has not improved.

A 2010 chart from Free Press' Off the Dial study shows how consolidation limits ownership and makes it more difficult for women and people of color to become media owners and promote diverse programming.

A 2010 chart from Free Press’ Off the Dial study shows how consolidation limits ownership and makes it more difficult for women and people of color to become media owners and promote diverse programming. (Source: Free Press)

A 2010 Free Press chart illustrating the results of a study that shows the devastating impact of consolidation on minority and female television station ownership. (Source: Free Press)

A 2010 Free Press chart illustrating the results of a study that shows the devastating impact of consolidation on minority and female television station ownership. (Source: Free Press)

Media consolidation makes financial sense. Some might argue it allows companies — especially those formerly invested in newspapers— a chance to diversify their investments and reap the rewards that come with television ownership, including ad sales. At the same time, I worry the profit motives driving these sales will trump what’s in the public interest, which is strong, fearless programming that reflects the values and make-up of our diverse communities.

Last week, I wrote about how lawmakers like U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell are asking the right questions about cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in the same markets, but it doesn’t look like the FCC is going to do much to stop the trend. I’m not sure how many people really even care, which is too bad considering the airwaves used by television stations actually belong to the public. We allow these private entities to use those airwaves to broadcast popular shows and to turn a profit. In exchange they are supposed to provide a service to the public in the form of news and information to help us make informed decisions and maintain a strong democracy. We should ask ourselves whether they are holding up their end of the bargain, and whether the FCC is properly enforcing ownership rules.

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Comments | Topics: belo, consolidation, fcc

June 13, 2013 at 11:54 AM

Be concerned about Gannett’s purchase of Belo and KING5

The Belo Building stands on June 13, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Belo Building stands on June 13, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

News of Gannett’s pending purchase of Belo’s television stations is not good. The Dallas-based company’s stewardship of television stations across the country has long set the gold standard for local broadcast journalism.

This could result in a huge loss for viewers in the Pacific Northwest, where Belo runs news stalwarts like KING5 in Seattle (a Seattle Times news partner), KREM in Spokane, KTVB in Boise, KGW in Portland and Northwest Cable News, which spans the entire tri-state region.

I’ve never worked for any of the company’s affiliates, but I’ve worked as a television reporter in Boise and Portland where I had to compete against their people and their resources. It was never easy.

What sets a Belo station apart? Belo’s stations are hard to beat because their leadership is competent, their on-air talent is consistent, and for all the problems inherent in feeding the so-called TV news beast, they have a tradition of producing high-quality content for local television and digital viewers.

Every broadcast reporter I know wants to work for a Belo station. At journalism job fairs, their booths are always mobbed.

I can see why their properties would be appealing. The stations are in growing markets and tend to dominate or stay right at the top of news ratings.

When KOMO TV was sold to Sinclair a few months ago, I had industry friends point out that things might be okay because out-of-state Belo has maintained a strong sense of integrity in its ownership of KING5.

What happens now if the Gannett deal goes through? I can’t predict the details, but expect a fundamental shift in how business is done. Gannett is massive and already owns 23 other television stations. How much will the McLean, Va., corporation care about the city of Seattle and its surrounding areas? I don’t know.

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Comments | Topics: gannett, king5, media

April 18, 2013 at 6:31 AM

Media’s description of search for ‘dark skinned’ Boston Marathon suspect shows ineptitude around race

The scene following an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon. (Photo by Ben Thorndike / AP)

The scene following an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon. (Photo by Ben Thorndike / AP)

CNN has egg on its face after the network and other media outlets falsely reported in multiple stories a suspect had been arrested in the Boston Marathon explosions, summed up in a Tampa Bay Times story.  In a competitive media environment, reporters naturally want to get the news first, but first they should get it right.

There are lessons to learn in CNN’s other big faux pas of the day: Reporter John King said law enforcement officers were looking for a suspect, “a dark-skinned individual.” The description ended there, making it about as useful as saying police were looking for a person with two eyes and a nose, wrote the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple on his blog.

King may have been concerned about the flimsy description. Reporting on-air for CNN, he said: “I want to be very careful about this because people get very sensitive when you say these things. I was told by one of these sources, who is a law enforcement official, that this was a dark-skinned male. The official used some other words, I’m not going to repeat them until we get more information because of the sensitivities. There are some people that will take offense even at that. “

The only offense I took was professionally.

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Comments | Topics: boston marathon, cnn, media

April 11, 2013 at 8:46 AM

Report of Fisher sale to Sinclair marks sad end of local TV ownership in Seattle

Update 9:38 a.m.: Fisher Communications President and CEO Colleen Brown confirmed the sale Thursday morning.

“Sinclair is the largest independent TV broadcaster in the country, and we believe its commitment to the industry along with its greater scale and sizable resources will provide our stations, team members and business partners with new opportunities to flourish,” Brown said in this KOMO news story.

Original post:

Anyone else spot the Tweet below Wednesday night?

According to this report from TV News Check’s Price Colman, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group has beaten LIN Media in a bidding war over Seattle’s Fisher Communications. Check out the Seattle Times news story, too.

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Comments | Topics: fisher, komo, local news

March 15, 2013 at 6:00 AM

There’s nothing romantic about ‘The Bachelor’ or reality TV

Aw. How nice. The nation is abuzz this week over some Seattleites and their connection to ABC’s hit show, “The Bachelor.” Former contestant/world-famous crier Jason Mesnick and his wife, Molly, welcomed a baby girl. Local graphic designer Catherine Giudici received the final rose and a giant ring from this season’s leading man, Sean Lowe.

I fancy myself a romantic, but watching the clip below from this week’s finale nearly made me regurgitate an otherwise delicious take-out dinner. I had to stop about 45 seconds in. You like cheesy stuff? Try making it through this…

When did I become such a cynic? I believe in love. I just don’t see how we can believe in the kind of love fed to us on reality television.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins hit the nail on the head in this exchange with David Brooks from their weekly blog, “The Opinionator”:

David, do you find it strange that we live in a country where arranged marriages are regarded as unwise and antiquated, yet one of the longest running programs on television is about a bunch of young women who compete for the affection of a young man none of them had ever met before? A show where it is preordained that at the end of the season said bachelor will announce that he is in love with two of them and will need the full two-hour finale to choose his mate?

Yes, Gail. It’s very strange.

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Comments | More in Video | Topics: catherine giudici, jason mesnick, love