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"Broadcast News Industry Continues to Caricature Itself," Opines Prof. Jeff McCall '76

May 7, 2011

5733May 7, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — "The broadcast news industry continues to caricature itself with super-sized coverage of royal weddings, celebrity washouts and cute animals," writes Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in today's Indianapolis Star. The op-ed points to criticisms of Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps, who has labeled modern television newscasts as "mindless infotainment masquerading as 'news.' "

Dr. McCall writes, "Copps points to a 2010 study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School that showed an average 30-minute local newscast 3961contains less than 30 seconds of local government news. This is 'the hour of grave peril' for American journalism, Copps says. In absence of news of substance, he says, Americans are left to glean public affairs information from 'attack ads and overly opinionated talking heads.' He told the Conference for Media Reform in Boston, 'Informed electorates depend upon facts, not talking heads hurling opinions at one another.' "

The professor notes research that shows the credibility of most broadcast news networks is suffering. He writes, "It seems odd to hear of the deterioration of news in a world of multiple channels and the Internet. But, as Copps reminds us, as much as 90 percent of news absorbed online actually comes from traditional news sources. And those sources have cut back on budgets, personnel and news of substance, leaving a deficiency in what Copps calls 'accountability journalism.' Thus, the news agenda is filled with simple or sensational stories that are cheap to cover.

Copps is calling for strict requirements that would force outlets to provide more public affairs programming or risk losing their licenses. "Regardless of whether the FCC can enforce public affairs standards, Copps does the nation a tremendous service by using his position to call out the media industry," McCall asserts. "More political and social leaders should demand more broadcaster commitment to public affairs. Citizens, too, should express their concerns to media management. "

The column concludes, "Copps' message today should resonate for years to come, just like former FCC chair Newton Minow's 'vast wasteland' speech in 196178228 and CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow's 1956 'wires and lights in a box' speech. Those visionary speeches sounded the alarm but, alas, did little eventual good. The citizenry can ill afford to ignore Copps' heraldry of today."

Access the complete text at IndyStar.com.

Jeff McCall is a 1976 graduate of DePauw, faculty adviser to student radio station WGRE, and author of the book Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences. He's frequently called upon by major media outlets to discuss media matters and has been cited in articles published by more than 100 newspapers. He was quoted this week in a Christian Science Monitor report on CBS' decision to make Scott Pelley the anchor and managing editor of the network's Evening News broadcast and recently talked with the Los Angeles Times about the move by Fox News Channel to discontinue Glenn Beck's daily program.

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