It’s easy to freak out about what’s on local news. But what about what’s left out?
The last spasm of scandal hit money media this week when a brilliantly edited video of lots of local tv anchors speaking in unison hit social media.
As we’ve reported here before, local stations owned and operated by central monopolies are often required to air nationally-created content. As their budgets are small and their options are few, they do as they’re told. And so it was with the anchors on dozens of stations owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group last month, when their corporate parent required them to read from a script apparently sent down from head office. Ironically, the script was all about news and trust.
So-called must-carry content is usually news or alerts or more worryingly, commentary. Sinclair’s owners are GOP donors, close to the Trump administration. One of their commentators is a former Trump scriptwriter. That’s bad enough. What anchors received last month was a must-read.
And so it was that a message all about fake news and the perils of trusting media came to millions of viewers not from the suspect mouth of a far-off pundit, but from a local, an anchor person you might see in a shop.
Timothy Burke, with Deadspin, did us all a favor when he stitched all the must-reads together, to create a very creepy chorus: from coast to coast, anchors reading from a single text.
What’s even creepier is this. With content coming from head office, what’s in your local news is bad. But what’s not in it may be even worse.
Monopoly media’s flooding in as local news is drying up. The first’s bad for democracy, The second directly threatens public health.
Scientists who track diseases, gather information from among sources, local news. And as health writer Helen Branswell reported last month, they’re scared.
Local media’s been the early warning system for everything from the spread of the flu to the outbreak of H1NI virus and Zika. Social media can help, but it’s not necessarily reliable or right. Professional, local media is an early warning system. Except when it isn’t. Because it doesn’t exist.
And then count up the minutes of news on your local news. What’s must carry, what’s not? And then support your local alternative. We need local media for our democracy - and for our health.