I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief as I read a “Policy Blog” posting by Dennis Wharton, EVP of communications for NAB.
The blog, “Dumb Stuff Said in Washington, D.C.,” relates an assertion made during a panel discussion at the National Press Club as part of forum put on by the Technology Policy Institute about how over-the-top video delivery may one day put an end to bundled pay TV channels.
Wharton reports a comment from one panelist answering a few questions from the audience about TV broadcast localism. He quotes the panelist: “ ‘Localism,’ he said with smug certainty, ‘is a myth.’ ”
This is where my disbelief enters — not about Wharton’s description of what transpired, but about this whole “myth” business.
I’ve been reporting on this industry since the early 1980s, and it is hard for me to imagine that anyone could say with a straight face that local TV broadcasters have somehow built a “myth” about service to their communities.
Granted, those looking to knock broadcasters off their spectrum to pursue their own plans to deliver paid services on TV airwaves understandably turn a blind eye to how local broadcasters fulfill their public service obligations.
And granted, policymakers, special interest groups and others have made great sport over the years of criticizing perceived shortcomings of broadcasters when it comes to localism. Who could ever forget former FCC commissioner Michael Copps’ perennial efforts to hold broadcasters to a higher standard and demand they make greater efforts to deliver on their localism obligation?
But then again, what sports team achieves its best performance without a little tough love from a coach? What writer produces his or her best work without prompting from an editor? What business produces superior products without the demanding leadership of top management?
Maybe it’s because I sit in the center of the United States, being in the Kansas City metropolitan area, but I can’t help but think back to all of the weather-related efforts local stations have made over the years to warn viewers of life-threatening conditions — often without regard to their own personal safety. What better example is there of serving the interest, convenience and necessity of their local markets?
Of course there was the Joplin, Mo., tornado, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and so many others in which broadcasters have proven their mettle when it comes to standing with their communities in times of peril and then, once the dust settles, helping to pick up the pieces by organizing food and clothing drives, telethons and other on-air endeavors.
In fact, I believe public broadcasters even sought waivers from FCC rules that under normal circumstances prevented them from on-air fundraising outside of their membership drives to raise money for relief efforts for victims of Katrina and other natural disasters.
Too often these and other examples of broadcast localism go unrecognized by the public at large. After all, localism is local. So how could viewers on the West Coast possibly know what a station on the Gulf Coast has done for its community?
So here is my suggestion: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org about your station’s efforts at localism. Leave out your local newscasts because the public gets that. They know broadcasters do local news. Rather, email me about the things your station has done that week to serve your local community.
Every Friday between now and the NAB Show in April, I will recap the submissions of stations about their localism efforts that week. My goal is to create a convenient place TV broadcasters, FCC commissioners, lawmakers, those who covet broadcast spectrum and anyone else can go to get a snapshot of TV broadcasters’ efforts to fulfill their obligation to serve their local communities.
Before the NAB Show, I will compile all of the Friday localism postings into a single blog.
To make this manageable for me, here’s what I need:
- Call sign
- City or cities served
- Date(s) of localism effort
- 25-word description of effort
- 25-word description of results
- Name, title and contact information of the person making the submission (for my follow-up, not for publication.)
Be sure to put your station’s call letters and “Localism” in the subject line of email.
Will these submissions prevent someone else in Washington, D.C., from saying “dumb stuff” about TV broadcasters and localism? Probably not. But the online localism recaps certainly will give the person on the receiving end of those kinds of remarks somewhere to go to prove otherwise.