Federal agency local media coverage lacking

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Electronic media aren't doing the job of local newspapers, according to a new report.

And, no, it's not propaganda from a newspaper industry group, it's from the Federal Communications Commission, the agency charged with overseeing electronic media.

The report being released today uses information gleaned over 18 months about the growth in online media.

Despite a wider array of media than ever, local government agencies, schools and businesses aren't being held accountable.

"A shortage of reporting manifests itself in invisible ways: stories not written, scandals not exposed, government waste not discovered, health dangers not identified in time, local elections involving candidates about whom we know little," according to the report.

That should be no surprise to the people of Ball, California, a Los Angeles suburb and one of the poorest towns in the country.

No local newspaper or other media covered city council meetings, until two Los Angeles Times reporters looked into city salaries while covering a scandal in the adjoining town of Maywood.

When they did, they found the city manager was making a salary of $787,637 a year (double that of President Barack Obama) plus benefits for a total of $1.5 million, the assistant earned $376,288, more than the top administrator for Los Angeles County, and the police chief was paid $457,000, a third more than the Los Angeles police chief. All but one of the members of the city council were receiving $100,000 for their part-time work, authorized by a special election in which almost no one voted. Council members in most cities Bell's size make about $4,800 a year.

After the scandal broke, the officials were arrested and charged with misappropriation of public funds, the mayor and council members resigned or recalled.

Thankfully, the FCC doesn't call for more government involvement, other than creating public affairs cable channels similar to C-SPAN at the state level (filled by public broadcasting in Nebraska), easing tax rules for non-profit news organizations and directing more federal advertising spending to local news media.

"Government is not the main player in this drama," the report says, appropriately. "The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism -- going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy -- is in some cases at risk."

The president of the American Society of News Editors notes that newspapers can do unprecedented investigative work using sophisticated high-tech-tools like database analysis and online mapping programs with detailed information about individual neighborhoods.

"The watchdog spirit is very much alive," Paulson said. Nebraskans have always agreed, carving "The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen" over the north door of the Capitol in Lincoln.

The Gazette has an active and expanding online presence at mccookgazette.com, but nothing carries the gravitas of committing ink to paper.

And, nothing can replace actually attending meetings of the school board, City Council, county commissioners and other local governments, checking documents first-hand and looking our leaders directly in the eye.

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  • The schools and the county get the biggest bites of the property tax dollar but the city seems to get the most coverage.

    -- Posted by dennis on Sun, Jun 12, 2011, at 12:23 PM
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