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Jeff – The Grand Rapids Press and channels 8 & 17 reported on the meeting, on WZZM 13 was absent of the major daily local news agencies. Fox 17 put the number of those at the event as 25, when the number was around 50, but that was due to the fact that they left early. All 3 news outlets reported that the meeting was organized by African American leaders, but only the Press attributed the meeting to the Community Leadership Coalition. The meeting was held to prepare community members for the August 9 public hearing on the proposed changes to the Hindering and Opposing ordinance. There was a lawyer present that provided some analysis, which was followed by discussion on strategies and reactions to the proposed changes.
Linda – So whose voices are heard in the coverage and what information was provided on the proposed changes?
Jeff – Fox 17 only ran comments from the lawyer who presented and the Urban League President Dr. Brame. WOOD TV, gives time to Police Chief Dolan who wasn’t even at the meeting, but they do provide the perspective of a woman who was there in the audience. The GR Press provided the best coverage in terms of voices, with comments from the lawyer, members of the Community Leadership coalition and audience members, some of which have been victims of police abuse. As for information on the proposed changes, none was really provided. All 3 news outlets did tell people that there was a public hearing scheduled at City Hall, but none of them provided any information about the actually ordinance itself. Copies of the proposed ordinance were provided at the meeting as well as being projected on the wall in a power point presentation, yet all 3 of the news outlets present did not give the public specifics, nor where they could obtain a copy in order to have input as citizens.
Linda – Here is a link to the online version of the proposed ordinance changes.
Linda – Last week there were elections here in West Michigan. As always, GRIID monitored the local media coverage of the various candidates and races. If someone were to rely solely on the local TV news for information on this past election, would they be able to make an informed vote?
Tom – Partly it depends on where the voter lived. If they were in Grand Rapids or Wyoming, they would have gotten some very cursory coverage of the city commission and Mayoral races in those areas. If they lived in Kalamazoo, they would have possibly seen a couple stories on the jail millage vote there. A voter in any other area in West Michigan would have been out of luck. So for example, there were elections in Grand Haven, Muskegon and Holland, and yet no substantive coverage of these races. In Ottawa county alone, there were 15 municipalities that had commissioner elections. None of these were covered.
Of the races that were covered, the Grand Rapids city commissioner races and the Wyoming Mayoral race, the coverage was superficial at best. All three stations ran pieces where they listed the candidates for these positions and ran between 15 to 45 seconds of the candidates speaking. Very little information was provided by the TV stations about the candidates positions and platforms beyond what the candidates themselves said in their brief on-air appearances.
Linda – Certainly there were a lot of races throughout the West Michigan area. Is it realistic to assume that the local TV news could cover all of them?
Tom – Well certainly, there is no set amount of airtime that would guarantee informed voters. But we can say that the current amount of airtime is inadequate to educate the public on local elections and candidates. This most recent primary election, we noted about one hour of airtime devoted to the election on all three stations combined for the thirty days leading up to the vote. That’s one hour out of approximately 100 hours of airtime for that study period. Now, for comparative purposes, we tracked a few other stories during this period. While the Local stations aired 28 election stories for this period, many of which were very short, they ran 334 crime based stories, a ratio of over ten to one crime versus election segments. The case of a missing boy in West Michigan got 36 stories total, 8 more than the local elections. So while the local TV news finds plenty of time for crime and disaster stories, election coverage tends to get less priority.
Linda – For GRIID’s latest election study data, visit the Challenging FCC license Renewals section of the GRIID website.
Linda – On Saturday, August 6 the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page story about the 60th anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima. How did the Press frame this story?
Jeff – The story was basically framed as a continuation of the official US government position, which basically says that the bombing of Hiroshima & 3 days later Nagasaki, were necessary to end the war and that it saved American lives. The main perspectives were that of 2 local WWII veterans, both of which state that the Hiroshima bombing was the right thing to do. The veterans also made claims about what was happening in the Pacific war at the time and that the Japanese Army “were the most barbaric fighters imaginable.”
Linda – Were there any other perspectives provided and what kinds of information do we now have that has not been part of the official position?
Jeff – The only other perspectives provided were that of 4 people who were randomly asked the question “Was it the right decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima?” This is a pretty meaningless exercise for the Press, since these people have no apparent knowledge or expertise about this important historical event, it was just a person on the street perspective. The great omission here however, is that no where do other facts appear about the first atomic bombing. For years much of the internal documentation about the Hiroshima bombing had been classified, but now is available for the public to read. The National Security Archives has recently posted much of this documentation online. In reading these documents it is clear that the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagaski had more to do with sending a strong message to the Russians at the time and that Japan was on the verge of surrendering, thus few America soldiers would have lost their lives had the bomb not been used. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/index.htm Lastly, it is interesting to note that the international press has a much different perspective on the Hiroshima.
Linda – Here are some links to international perspectives:
Linda – In GRIID’s regular news monitoring, they often see examples of news stories that resemble commercials for products or businesses rather than actual news stories. Tom, what examples of these have you seen recently?
Tom – We see these kinds of commercial news pieces almost everyday, but there were a couple of rather noticeable examples lately on local TV. One was a two minute story on WZZM 13 about a new Starbucks coffee shop moving into the Amyway Grand Plaza downtown. This story featured interviews with local coffee shop owners and customers and did not really offer the viewer any useful information other than promoting the existence of a new Starbucks. Now, while this story was very likely the result of Starbucks sending a press release to WZZM 13, the story was produced by that news station. WXMI Fox 17 ran a piece during the Tech trends segment of their broadcast that had all the earmarks of a video news release, that is, a story created by a PR firm and given free of charge to the news station. This particular example was about a new voice mail –Internet system provided by a specific cell phone company. The story contains staged scenes of a father talking to his family using this particular technology, a scene that looks more like a commercial than a news story.
Linda – So why are these commercial themed news stories and video news releases so common on the local news?
Tom – A big part of it is cost. It’s a lot easier and cheaper for a local TV station to run a vnr that it got for free than to go out and produce a story. And these cost cutting measures have become necessary in large part due to the large increase in media ownership consolidation over the last decade or so. Last week WZZM 13 ran a story about the change in ownership of the Detroit newspapers and in the story they acknowledged that WZZM 13 is owned by Gannet Corp. Many people do not realize that the local TV stations are not locally owned, nor are they owned by the broadcast affiliate, such as FOX or ABC. The local TV stations are all owned by much larger media companies. As I Mentioned, WZZM 13 is owned by Gannet, the largest holder of newspapers in the country, including USA today. WXMI FOX is owned by the Tribune company, whose flagship is the Chicago Tribune. WOOD TV 8 is owned by LIN TV corp, a company who own 26 other TV stations. As these local TV stations get bought by larger companies, more emphasis is put on higher profits and lowering costs. This usually translates into smaller news departments which often have to rely on using free video news releases as a way to inexpensively fill airtime.
Linda – To see who owns the local media in Grand Rapids, check out the media ownership section of the GRIID website. For a online database of media ownership around the country, visit the Center for Public Integrity website.