IF COMMERCIAL RADIO ACTUALLY TRAFFICKED IN NEWS
By Norman Solomon

"What if thousands of radio stations across the country were
augmenting their fine reporting on the latest road conditions with
comparable from-the-sky breaking news coverage of social conditions in
local communities? The result might sound something like this:"

"'Right now we're hovering near City
Hall, with its gold-plated dome sparkling in the early light, and from this
height we can see a number of children huddled on sidewalk grates along
with some adults, apparently trying to stay warm."

"Looks like the homeless
encampment in Maple Park has gotten quite a bit bigger since yesterday
morning. Apparently the shelters -- public and private -- just can't keep
up with the demand."

"Ordinarily by now most of the low-income people
waiting on sidewalks and street corners have been picked up by the slew of
independent contractors who cruise the main thoroughfares to hire day laborers on the cheap. But in an apparent sign of the slowing economy, many more men than usual are still standing along the curbs at this hour. Hands in pockets, they seem unlikely to get offered a day's work today, even at low wages."

"'Now back to the studio.'"

 

Listeners don't get much news these days if they tune into commercial
radio stations. Coverage of national and global events is scant at best,
while local news -- once the pride of many AM radio stations -- is now an
endangered species. The remaining community news is usually the "rip and
read" variety from wire services.

But let's give credit where it's due. In the United States, thousands
of radio outlets are doing a good job of gathering one particular type of
news. The coverage is often meticulous and dependable as stations devote
substantial resources to providing reliable up-to-the-minute information:
If you want the latest news about traffic, in all kinds of weather, turn on
the radio.

Using an array of helicopters, mobile phones and other assorted
information relay systems, radio stations keep listeners posted on
vehicular fender-benders, glitches, snarls and alternative routes. Where I
live, a local "all news" CBS affiliate -- owned by the giant Infinity
broadcasting conglomerate -- hypes "traffic and weather together" every 10
minutes, round the clock. And the quality of the traffic reports is
impressive.

But what if thousands of radio stations across the country were
augmenting their fine reporting on the latest road conditions with
comparable from-the-sky breaking news coverage of social conditions in
local communities? The result might sound something like this:

"Now for the latest, we go to Dan in Skyview Copter One over
downtown."

"Things don't look good from here. Already this morning we've seen
several dozen homeless people clutching their blankets in the downtown
area. Apparently they had no place to sleep indoors overnight, even when
the mercury plunged below 20 degrees. Right now we're hovering near City
Hall, with its gold-plated dome sparkling in the early light, and from this
height we can see a number of children huddled on sidewalk grates along
with some adults, apparently trying to stay warm. Now back to the studio."

"Thanks Dan. We go now to Skyview Copter Two, southwest of the city.
Ben, what's the latest?"

"Well Jill, I can't say the news is positive. Looks like the homeless
encampment in Maple Park has gotten quite a bit bigger since yesterday
morning. Apparently the shelters -- public and private -- just can't keep
up with the demand. And from here I can see that most people don't seem to
have much to eat this morning in the area of the park. Some are simply
wandering from one trash can to another, evidently searching for bottles to
cash in for the deposits."

"OK Ben, sounds like a bad scene out there. Thanks for the update. Now
over to Melissa in Skyview Copter Three, somewhere above skid row."

"That's right -- since just before dawn we've been circling over some
of the most economically depressed neighborhoods of the city, and I wish we
had some better news to report. But our informal Day Labor index is quite
downbeat at this hour. Ordinarily by now most of the low-income people
waiting on sidewalks and street corners have been picked up by the slew of
independent contractors who cruise the main thoroughfares to hire day
laborers on the cheap. But in an apparent sign of the slowing economy, many more men than usual are still standing along the curbs at this hour. Hands in pockets, they seem unlikely to get offered a day's work today, even at low wages."

"All right Melissa. And now, for a change of pace, we go to Skyview
Copter Four, currently aloft and eyeing the upscale Buckingham Ridge
neighborhood."

"Quite a bit of activity in evidence this morning, Jill, and I can
tell you the mayor has just stepped into the sleek black limo that's been
parked in front of his house since he staggered home late last night. He's
headed to a news conference to announce further plans for the tax-supported
downtown Convention Center complex being built by a team of renowned
Italian architects. Now back to the studio."

"Thanks. And please keep your eyes open up there for the comings and
goings of the rich and famous this morning. We could sure use some upbeat
news."
 

 

 

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (I'd recommend a visit to the site), a nationwide consortium of public-policy researchers. He has written op-ed pieces for Boston Globe, Washington Post, Newsday, New York Times, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Baltimore Sun, and is a far more successful writer than Alex Sandell will ever be.  His column, normally titled, "Media Beat," is nationally syndicated in a wide variety of newspapers.  If you'd like to see his weekly "Media Beat" column published on the opinion page of your local daily newspaper(s), please contact the opinion-page editor at the paper(s) and suggest that the paper give his column a try. Please mention to editors that his weekly column is available to newspapers from Creators Syndicate. Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." 

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