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Enduring Values in Radio and Television

Posted by Becky Dale on September 11, 2008

As a broadcast journalism-hopeful student, I was excited to sit in on this discussion, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensely passionate words that passed around the beautiful lecture hall in Neff. As alums shared snippets of memories of various teachers and classes taken in that very room, everything became a bit clearer–these are real people, and one day I could join them.

But the topic of discussion was, fortunately for others, not my own inclusion to their ranks, but rather where my choice of work will take me in five, ten, twenty, fifty years. More importantly, what is happening in broadcast journalism today?

Two minutes behind schedule, Kent Collins commenced what would become a slew of speculations on the future of journalism with the assurance that “we’re on time” according to broadcast. After pointing out celebrities such as “the gury of all gurus” Rod Gillett, Collins deferred to chief editor of the MissouriNet Bob Priddy.

Providing a rather light introduction before the onslaught, Priddy reminisced about his own experience at  MU before shoving the cold, hard facts under the noses of all present: we are all “playing with a deck in which all fifty-two cards are wild.”

John Ferrugia contributed his own opinion: “news is a product.” He spoke about the awards that various news stations can receive and that, while the audience cares very little about the awards themselves, the standards they represent that each honored news station meets are of the utmost importance to viewers.

The goal of all journalism, regardless of medium, is to uphold the first amendment to ensure democracy.

Most people would agree. Voters glean their information from the Internet and television much more than from newspapers and magazines, though both are still viable options. Voters then take part in our fundamental democratic right–electing members to the great institution, the government.

Joe Bergantino took over for Ferrugia and agreed that news has become a product of marketing and advertising over the past thirty years. It is now necessary to return to our fundamental values. “Somebody had to hold the powerful accountable,” thus the creation of journalism.

We as journalists currently face “a crisis point in our profession,” says Bergantino. It is now time to return to our jobs as national watchdogs, rather than submit to those who would shape the news.

News Director for KOMU-TV Stacey Woelfel shared his own insights. The School of Journalism has had to change its teaching to keep up with technology and the enterprise companies. It has become difficult to keep in line with Radio and Television’s enduring values while keeping students marketable to those fields.

The conversation switched to the importance of content. “Content will sell,” says Ferrugia. “People want to know” and the journalist is a content-provider. After showing an excerpt from his own project on rape and sexual assault within the military, Ferrugia proudly announced a change in the institution. A sexual assault officer is now stationed in every military unit.

Stories like that are hard to come by, and what is more, economics drive stories. The “good” stories like Ferrugia’s cost a good deal of money and, more importantly, time. Few stations are willing to sacrifice so much for a story that might not sell to an audience. Furthermore, some journalists fear that management may choose not to air a story that would be unappealing to a marketing agency. One member of the audience, also a part of tv management, retorted, “if you can’t sell me” then it’s not worth airing. That seems to uphold the “good content sells” theory.

While the future remains largely unknown thanks to the rapid increase in technology like iPods, YouTube, and phones delivering news as well as the fast decline of traditional print, Bergantino identifies the challenge in prediction: “people will watch, the question is where.”

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