TV Commentator Ken Schramm on the media

Ken Schramm is a commentator for KOMO TV in Seattle. He does a good job although I find myself disagreeing with him more often than not. Last night he commented on the numerous comments that the station received about coverage of the recent gunman incident or incidents (I forgot whether it was Colorado or Omaha coverage that drew the ire.) The concern of the viewers was that extensive coverage of such acts only encourages further incidences by giving the killers what they want–fame and notoriety. Ken responded by asking the viewers in effect to comment on what should be on the news. He said that news organizations work very hard to understand what audiences want in the news coverage and providing that. So, what do you want? Do you want coverage of such horrible events? Do you want to know these things are going on? Are do you simply want the nice, the kind, the encouraging, the namby pamby, the feel good stuff? That was in essence the question he posed.

But he also said that news organizations maybe ought not to think so much about what audiences want, but what they need.

What struck me about his comments, and strikes me about almost any person in the news business commenting about the news business is the refusal to note the obvious and driving truth, which is that they are in the business of gathering and selling an audience. That is how they survive. That is ultimately the final question–other than basic morality on the part of the decision makers–that determines what coverage will be provided and what will not be.

Here’s what he should have said: we live and die by ratings. Continuously. We decide what will be covered and not covered primarily by the impact it will have on our audience numbers. The higher the numbers, the more we get paid. We don’t really have a choice in this matter because we are in commercial television and we are hammered by competition every day. So, the choice dear viewer is yours. If you don’t like bloody news stories about maniac murderers, turn off the damn tv, or switch to the Golf Channel. Nothing there on mall murders. And if you feel strongly about it, tell all your friends and family to turn off the bad news too. If enough do that, we won’t cover it, because we’ll be too busy covering what our audience wants us to cover. Don’t like our news coverage? Don’t blame us, blame yourself and all others who tune in to what you think they ought not to.

2 thoughts on “TV Commentator Ken Schramm on the media”

  1. As to your comment, “We decide what will be covered and not covered primarily by the impact it will have on our audience numbers. The higher the numbers the more we get paid,” well, not exactly.

    I am a former television news director and can tell you that many of the people in the newsroom, not the least of them the reporters, probably don’t really know or care what the ratings are. For the most part, they want to report news. And their salaries are certainly not tied to ratings. (To begin with there are too many other variables — lead-in programs, effective promotion, anchor talent, etc., that influence ratings, and the on-air folk have little or nothing to say about any of that.) Newsroom management people do have ratings in mind and a vested interest in their success in the numbers column. And they, after all, are the ones who decide what is to be covered and included in the program lineup.

    And as far as turning off the TV to influence coverage, TV news viewership has been declining for some years according to Pew and others, and it hasn’t changed the content of newscasts. If anything, it’s driven them to increase coverage of the cops ‘n’ robbers, blood ‘n’ guts beats, if my observations are correct.

    Years ago news consultants (Magid and McHugh-Hoffman among them) determined that viewers didn’t want to think or work to get their news so we quit covering government and the in-depth or think pieces and went after the simple and obvious.

    For those who want the news, I’d suggest a subscription to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor or the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. For the most part, the rest of television is an entertainment medium. I believe it was Richard Nixon who said, “Television is to news as Charlie’s Angels is to criminology.”

  2. Last call

    heres to those a wishin us well
    Drinken our favorite…you do tell
    A lifetime of drinken…the fluid that binds
    Theres always that friend who you do finds
    Do not forget when that person appears
    To lift that micro mug in cheers
    Yes…grip that mug and hold on tight
    If be your life it takes tonight
    Incur a frown…A look of fright
    No riches.. fame..or your excuses
    Will exempt…from verbal abuses
    Gulping it down…goes down with a slickness
    Comes back up…Up with a sickness
    The brown bottle Flu…A universal condition
    For those who catch it ..the road to perdition
    Drink up!
    I thought of this poem I composed when I viewed your broadcast about the govenor and bars…

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