Thursday, November 15, 2007

State of the media in Springfield / READ

This morning's issue of Illinois Times has a cover story and a couple of sidebars on the state of the news media. They fit in with the discussion we're having in a couple of my news-editorial classes, and they're important enough I'm assigning them to all of my mass comm. students. Read them, and be ready to cite them in class discussions, on your blogs and/or your final exam essays. You can pick up a free copy of IT from the newsrack next to the Quiet Lounge in Dawson, or read it on IT's website They tell about the pressure of declining circulation, ownership changes and a gloomy job outlook at The State Journal-Register and WICS Channel 20. All this makes it difficult, according to some of the people quoted, to do a decent, ethical job of covering the news -- writing "the best obtainable version of the truth" in Carl Bernstein's words -- in the dominant media in town. More specialized, or "niche," media in the African-American community and public radio are doing better, according to the sidebars.

There's nothing new in the doom and gloom. Ben Bagdikian, a former Washington Post editor now dean emeritus of the journalism school at the University of California-Berkley, summed it up 40 years ago when he said, "Trying to be a first-rate reporter on the average American newspaper is like trying to play Bach's St. Matthew's Passion on a ukulele: The instrument is too crude for the work, for the audience and for the performer."

True enough. But you've got to try.

This week's stories in Illinois Times tell how things are shaking out here lately, and they're not just for students who want to go into the news business. The trends are national, and they're important for everyone who deals with -- or reads, watches, listens to or surfs -- the media. Which is all of us.

A sidelight. In Amanda Parsons' story on local TV news, there's a little preview of what Benedictine students can expect from Nathan Mihelich, who will teach TV production spring semester. Formerly a Channel 20 reporter, Mihelich is now information director for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. Says the IT story:
Mihelich will teach a new television-production course at Benedictine University/Springfield College in the spring, and he says he will use his experiences at WICS and other news stations to teach students about the value of investigative reporting, the importance of quality rather than quantity, and how to turn a story into a presentable piece that people care about and may act upon.
Read the IT stories and be ready to discuss them in class next week.

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