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It's gloves off for broadcast laggards.

This, dear colleagues, is old news. A quick scan of the good ol' NCEW Membership Directory is enough to confirm the appalling state of broadcast editorializing in this country.

As David Spiceland, associate professor in the school of communications at Appalachian State University, showed in his nationwide survey of broadcasters (reported in the Winter 1998 Masthead), television stations cite everything from "no indication viewers would value it," to "do not believe public cares what our editorial opinions are" as justification for not airing editorials.

As recently as last June the national broadcast journal Electronic Media editorialized on "the vanishing TV editorial." It urged stations, especially the ever-growing number owned by out-of-town media groups, to "demonstrate their new, but real interest in the community by taking the bold approach of trying to lead, through editorials."

But appeals to show leadership seem to be falling on deaf ears - or at least deaf pocketbooks - de- spite widespread acknowledgment that local news and information is a local station's chief franchise. Management seems unable to connect sound business practice, community leadership, and authentic journalism with the responsibility to offer opinion.

So I hereby suggest a different tack.

I ask my print colleagues to browbeat the broadcast laggards until they see the light.

Challenge their self-serving claims of "Being There For You" or "Your Source For News" by pointing out that the lack of courage of one's convictions is a pretty big blemish on a broadcast station's pretty community service face.

Especially in those markets where newspapers and broadcast stations work cooperatively on civic journalism projects, the print half of the partnership could chide the television half for its incomplete commitment to the effort.

You may have to be a little explicit (broadcasters love explicitness). If stations are unwilling or unable to invest in this important function of any news and information operation, then it should set aside part of its broadcast news hole for one of the many thoughtful, articulate, opinionated editorial writers from the local papers. We broadcasters will join you in issuing that call. We'll use our professional journals to urge members and subscribers to look to print editorial writers to add the opinion function that we all agree is critical to the responsible journalism in which we believe.

This should be easy. Newspapers criticize television all the time.

This criticism is offered in the spirit of encouraging a service that we all agree is vital: well-researched, well-written, well-delivered editorials. You know people listen to you; broadcasters will as well.

Push them, threaten them, embarrass them. Use your editorial voice to create more editorial voices.

NCEW board member Neil Heinen is editorial director of WISC-TV in Madison, Wis. His e-mail address is
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Author:Heinen, Neil
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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