I took one TV journalism course in college. One. I didn’t know it at the time, but the course with professor Jim Thistle at Boston University would change my life. I went to school destined to be a radio DJ, or so I thought. I studied radio, and film, and writing, but only took that one course in TV news. (Right now, some of you are thinking this probably explains a lot) When I got out of college I pursued my career in radio, traveling 75 miles each way to my first on-air radio gig at a top 40 station in Portsmouth, NH. Then one day, months after my graduation, the phone rang. It was professor Thistle on the other end of the phone. He said he knew ABC’s Boston affiliate WCVB needed writers, and he thought I’d make a great writer, and he wanted to know if I was interested. I was. It was that one call with professor Thistle, a long time and well respected news director in Boston that changed everything. WCVB took a chance on me. They trained me. They gave me the knowledge to learn and to grow and to embrace the power of local TV news. It’s been more than twenty years since then, and I’ve experienced two decades of history on the OTHER side of the television, as we bring news to the communities we serve.
Today I thought of professor Thistle when I read an article in the LA Times about the steep cuts to the LA Weekly, the amazing alternative paper in Southern California. The cuts there this week were brutal. In the article, the LA Times quoted a professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, looking to provide perspective on what it means that the LA Weekly is now a shell of its former self.
The professor said, “At this point, local news coverage is the L.A. Times’ California section and car chases on TV news.”
A professor of journalism chalked up local TV news to car chases and nothing more.
So I emailed the professor, for myself, but really and more importantly for ALL my friends in the local TV news business.
I said, “I respectfully need to disagree with your quote in the LA Times…. While car chases do drive ratings, we cover a huge range of topics—local, national, human interest, and breaking news of course….”
I went on to talk about the achievements of just my local TV newsroom recently, big investigations which went national, stories we broke that viewers couldn’t see anywhere else, not even in the alternative newspapers, stories that matter. Each of our local TV newsrooms covers its share of stories that matter to Los Angeles.
I added, “I guess I’m hoping that as professor to the next generation of journalists, you won’t discourage people from finding a good home in the local TV news business.”
I thought of professor Jim Thistle and the love he had for local TV news as I wrote to this professor who clearly, it seems to me from that quote, has lost his faith in local TV news. I told the professor in closing, “I feel myself needing to defend ALL journalists nowadays, especially TV news, and just wanted to give you my thoughts.”
I still believe in the power of local TV news. The idea of fake news has been incredibly damaging. When the naysayers become people even within our own industry, it’s important to remind them, and to keep demonstrating to the viewers, that we’re much more than just car chases.