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Local Journalism Doesn’t Need To Be Saved, It Needs To Be Revived

“We assign stories, interview, write and shoot the story and move onto the next day. Problem with that is, we move on, but maybe the world doesn’t.”

Angel James



“And, that’s the way it is.”

Walter Cronkite’s legendary sign off.

But, that’s the way it WAS.

We delivered the news. Viewers consumed it.

We lectured. They listened.

Now, the audience has choices. And lots of them. They can scroll through Twitter and Facebook and get their news when they want to in a matter of minutes or have it delivered to their inbox first thing in the morning, instead of waiting for the 5pm news.

In order to be relevant, we have to be in relevant places. We have to go to where the audience is. And, we have to ENGAGE.

Engagement isn’t a trend relegated to influencers on Instagram.

It’s what every business needs to survive, including news outlets. ESPECIALLY news outlets, who are trying to build, or in some cases, rebuild audience loyalty and trust.

And, quite frankly, news outlets, fall short in this area and I was reminded of that this week, as I was scrolling through Twitter.

Re-tweeting links isn’t enough.

Updating Facebook feeds isn’t enough.

Many journalists look at digital as being “stupid,’ and quite frankly, a chore, an aggravation and an annoyance.

As a former local TV news producer, I remember when they first started coming to us in the newsroom and asking us to provide material for social media. The veterans didn’t take too kindly to it. I include myself in that. We didn’t get it.

But, change was knocking on the door, and we were too arrogant and set in our ways to allow it in.

Now, the door has been kicked in.

How we connect is changing and we have to change with it. We can’t just lecture. We have to listen. It needs to be a two-way conversation. It needs to be more inclusive and, most of all, relevant.

In order to be relevant, you have to show up in relevant places.

Go where your audience is. You want Millennials? You want GEN Z? You HAVE to, at the very least, be on Instagram. If newsrooms want to reach younger audiences, they should also include them in the process. Last year, The University of Missouri had its first-ever Instagram local news summer fellowship, a project from Instagram and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at Mizzou.


Why? Because…

  • One billion people use Instagram every month.
  • 500 Million use Instagram Stories every day.
  • 200 Million Instagram users visit at least one business profile daily.

Today, I went to go look at the Instagram pages of some local TV news outlets. Not one of them had any original Stories they’d created and they hadn’t posted in their feed since 9/11.

That was 5 days ago.

In the last five days:

  • Hurricane Sally hit our shores
  • People as far east as New York felt the effects of wildfires still raging in California
  • The World Health Organization recorded its highest single-day increase in global infections since the pandemic began
  • President Trump participated in a Town Hall meeting
  • Apple took on Peloton with Apple Fitness+
  • Not to mention the soap opera of Oracle’s TikTok bid…

There really is nothing more expensive than a missed opportunity. And, that’s a lot of missed opportunity.

“If your halfhearted efforts to engage your audience amount to robotically re-tweeting story links or slapping a general “Tell Us Your Thoughts” box at the end of the story or pleading with your viewers to simply blabber on about whatever they reckon, you might as well start looking for another line of work. Authentic engaged journalism requires a human touch.

-Jake Batsell/Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences

Journalism is about people.

I was lucky enough to work on a morning show, where we were more concerned with putting a smile on the face of a cancer patient than we were an Emmy.

After producing television for more than 20 years, I can tell you with conviction that my biggest accomplishment was 50 “LIVE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD” shows. Fifty LIVE 5-hour broadcasts that started before the advent of wireless cameras.

There were a lot of live trucks, a lot of cable, a lot of different locations that were plotted out like a military operation. We didn’t stay in one spot like most live broadcasts. When we said “LIVE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD,” we meant it. We were everywhere.

It was an engineering feat. But, the biggest feat of all was that we had gone to where the audience was, acknowledging where they lived, how they lived and what was important to them.

We had done a show in Ferguson, Missouri before the summer of 2014. We had gotten to know a lot of Ferguson’s residents and business owners, including Natalie Dubose from Natalie’s Cakes & More— who had just opened her business that summer.

We had built a relationship. And, I’ll never forget waiting for her in the lobby in the early morning hours when video of her tear-stained face went viral. Two years later, we were back again in Ferguson live in her neighborhood again.

We put a lot of stock in Nielsen ratings and ad revenue. But, when is the last time we measured our purpose, our impact?

We assign stories, interview, write and shoot the story and move onto the next day. Problem with that is, we move on, but maybe the world doesn’t. Asking questions and actually reading the answers can give life to a story we thought was done and over. We created the 24-hour news cycle. In other words, we are guilty of putting stories to bed way before their bedtime. 

I don’t believe local journalism needs saving. It needs reviving. Throw out the old playbook. We need to rethink the way we tell stories and where we’re telling them.

The Washington Post gets it. That’s why they have their own TikTok guy, Dave Jorgenson, who’s one of TikTok’s most surprising breakout successes. He’s using the short form videos to entertain and inform at the same time. You might not see some of his younger TikTok followers ever holding a Washington Post newspaper, but you will see Dave in their hands, on their screens.

FOX 46 Good Day Charlotte Meteorologist, Nick Kosir, gets it. He’s danced his way to 1.6 million followers on Instagram.

Amanda Jaeger at THV11 in Little Rock gets it. She and her mesmerizing “anchor voice” has one million followers on TikTok.

“It’s not a fad—you know you have to do it,” said Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN Digital. “The days of news organizations’ doing a story on whatever format and pushing it out there, those days are over. They’re done. The organizations that get that are the ones that are going to win.”

As Jake Batsell tells in his book Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences, he was surprised to learn Walter Cronkite never started to proactively meet with his audience until after he left the news desk.

Batsell had tentatively titled his book “Ready to Engage,” until he was told by a newsroom veteran:

“I think you’re being too kind. I think it’s Engage or Die.”  

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Telling The Audience What You Think They Want to Hear Won’t Help You Grow

“Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.”



Photo Credit: iStock

It’s OK to not always tell your audience what you think they want to hear. 

I have been writing that phrase down at the top of my notepad before I start my show for the last two weeks. Something tells me I will need it for at least another 12 months.

In the last week alone there have been two major topics that have divided News Talk audiences across the country: The debt-ceiling debate and the brewing Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis feud.

And as I’ve listened to talented hosts and perused the social media landscape, I’ve noticed a hesitancy that I usually would not expect. 

Granted, for the last two years it’s been relatively easy when talking about the national political scene: Joe Biden is a disaster. Whether it’s economic policy, border policy or foreign policy, most Americans don’t believe the guy is doing a good job. The News Talk audience, generally speaking, thinks he’s doing a terrible job.

That’s shooting fish in a barrel. But now comes the hard(er) work. 

Starting with the debt-ceiling drama, there was a big divide amongst Republicans in the House of Representatives. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, however dozens of Republicans, many of the most conservative members of the House, voted against the bill, saying it did not do enough to cut spending

As a result, it seemed many hosts, who assume their audience blindly aligns with everything the most-conservative members of the House say, were hesitant to point out the obvious: Explain what better deal you were getting when you only had a small majority in the House, and no control over the Senate or the White House?

It was a question I never got a good answer to on my show.

Republicans already picked up a win getting Biden to the negotiating table after he spent months saying he wanted a clean debt-ceiling raise with no spending cuts attached. Speaker Kevin McCarthy won, got some concessions, and slowly began turning the tide towards hopefully Senate and White House victories in 2024, when then the real work can begin on getting spending under control. This was a victory.

And while no one with any levels of fiscal sanity believes our government’s spending isn’t wildly out of control, that is a separate conversation from whether or not this was a good or smart deal. 

Then, there’s the Trump vs. DeSantis feud. Some have staked their claim with one candidate over the other. Some are trying to toe the line and avoid all conflict. Neither approach makes sense to me.

The obvious approach seems to me to analyze the candidate’s based on what they do and say on a given day. There will be good and bad days for Trump. DeSantis will have his up and down moments. I can guarantee this because they’re flawed human beings like the rest of us.Like every election season, it will ebb and flow, and eventually someone will come out on top.

Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.

If you compare this to sports talk radio, a national host talking about the NFL Playoffs doesn’t have to have a preferred team, but he or she has to have something to say that’s interesting, compelling, honest, thought-provoking and entertaining.

If they don’t do this, they’ll become wallpaper in a world of too many media options. 

If you have the trust of your audience, you’re real, honest, engaging and thoughtful, you won’t lose your audience. You’ll keep them engaged and you’ll grow it.

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Why Did Newsmax Allow Rep. Matt Gaetz to Host An Unchallenged TV Program?

“A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies.”

Jessie Karangu



Photo Credit: Newsmax

Representing your constituents in Congress used to be a mark of honor. It was a position that came with pride and respect. At least that’s what I’ve heard from older relatives who lived in an America that was supposedly more united. Today, depending on the individual, the position doesn’t usually come with too much regard if any at all. Congress has an all-time low approval rating and many representatives go into the job plotting their next money-making move in the process. 

The cable news circuit has slowly but surely built a bench of potential hosts from current and former Congressmen. Former Congressman Jason Chaffetz is a Fox News commentator, Trey Gowdy is a host on Fox News, Joe Scarborough is MSNBC’s morning show anchor and most recently Rep. Matt Gaetz anchored his own hour for Newsmax. As much as some members of Congress roast young Gen Zers for their tenacity when it comes to TikTok, these men are just as eager for the wrong kind of attention and spotlight. 

A former Congressman on television can provide perspective that gives context to current issues the country faces. On Scarborough’s morning show, he often harkens back to past negotiations and talks he had with fellow lawmakers. At times, he even uses those connections to find out the inside scoop about something that’s happening in the moment. Current Congressmen who appear on shows as guests also get to talk directly to their constituents hopefully alongside a host that is willing to challenge them on the issues of the day and not simply allow them to lead the audience astray. 

For Newsmax to allow Rep. Gaetz to host a show though, is a disgrace to a medium of television that already like Congress doesn’t have much acclaim. With that being said, even for cable news, this is a major low and it should never happen on either side of the aisle. Politicians are elected to serve but are also forced to make tough decisions. These choices are answerable to the American people. When a Congressman is allowed to spew their thoughts uncensored, it takes attention away from the issues that really matter. 

A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies. Unless Gaetz had a co-host that was a journalist questioning his takes, how does an unchallenged show truly serve the public – an oath he agreed to partake in when he took on his role as a Congressman. 

Gaetz’s appearance is also a waste of tax dollars. The people of Florida who elected him into office expect Gaetz to be working with fellow lawmakers to make their lives better. They expect him to be doing research or reading up on bills that can bring the change he’s promised to his voters. Instead, he used the resources of hard-working Floridians to moonlight into his next career and spew misinformation that can prove harmful to the public.

If we allow more serving Congressmen to host their own cable talk shows on such a widely distributed platform, will we reach a day when lawmakers exclusively negotiate bills on television? Will Congressmen be more worried about ratings than results? We’ve already seen what happens when a President reigns over a populous and only rules based on what he sees on television. We’ve also seen the political implications that come with such unjustly behavior. Cable news networks will suffer the moral consequences of their actions while politicians who dare to try this act again will eventually face the demise of their legacy in the voting booth. Be careful.

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Sales Productivity Protects You From Hedge Fund Uncertainty

“The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.”

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Almost 30 years ago, Radio station ownership limits were lifted, and Wall Street saw an opportunity. But the hedge funds didn’t understand the business and created mayhem in a still vital industry.

I worked in New York City for over 6 years. I had the opportunity to spend time around the brain trust of Wall Street. These Masters of the Universe saw the weakness of the radio industry and thought that they had all the answers. 

Well, they didn’t. 

I will give you some history from my perspective. My first 16 years were spent working for family run operations. Both of these companies were managed by third generation operators who put people and community first. These were highly successful operations with large staffs. 

I am not looking back with rose colored glasses. No organization is perfect or without unique challenges. But people were first in these broadcast companies. Both of my first employers had top consultants to give strong outside the organization feedback. Both companies had General Managers that catered to both the programming and sales departments. 

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the biggest overhaul of telecommunications law in 62 years. It was widely thought that this would bring radio into modern times. Consolidation has been a landmark of American Business, so, Wall Street’s Hedge Funds saw an opening.  Radio station owners sold for insane profits. Longtime owners were able to sell stations for multiples of up to 30 times meaning that if an owner had a station earning 1 million dollars, they could sell it for 30 million dollars. Quite a return (Most stations didn’t go that high but multiples of 18-25 were very common during this period).  

Wall Street looked at radio like the pickle industry. Except there was an issue. Radio did not have hundreds of workers in each location. You couldn’t move all operations to a central hub and save HUGE money, that would justify strong ROI. So, radio ended up with several large owners (by the way, I am not criticizing iHeart, Audacy, Cumulus and the other large owners). 

When larger companies developed, they went public selling stock to individual shareholders and institutional investors. The market states that companies show a certain amount of revenue growth per year. Let’s say that number is 10%. Radio is interesting, we are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. You cannot just build new radio stations. So, companies were forced to merge or expand to meet revenue goals. Wall Street encouraged and even demanded it. 

Here was the problem – radio companies acquired an unsupportable amount of debt that could never be paid back. The Hedge Funds just moved cash around and demanded companies cut staff and consolidate management. It was a blood bath. Any of us who entered this business in the 90’s saw this. Great broadcasters, salespeople, managers were forced out because of unsustainable debt and micromanaging Hedge Funds.  

On the local level, new clusters were forced to protect the biggest biller in the group. This was not set to grow revenue; it was to protect the revenue and keep the spreadsheets looking right. I know of stations that were more successful brands in ratings in a cluster than the cash cow but if you were the Program Director who was consistently beating the cash cow, your job was in jeopardy.  This was a reverse hunger games caused by debt, fear and shortsightedness. 

So, here we are.

The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. 

The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.

Even though a couple of the bigger companies have gone bankrupt, they’re not bankruptcy situations where assets were liquidated creating a market-based value of these properties. It was essentially a negotiation to lower the debt, and did not move these companies to become cash positive operations again. 

Why do the Hedge Funds not cut their losses and move on? Now that is a great question.  Hedge funds handle billions of dollars. They bundle bad deals with great deals and so their investors don’t seem to have a problem if they see enough of a profit at the end of the month, quarter or year. People remember the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Hedge Funds were bundling bad mortgages with good ones. Soon the bad overcame the market. Thus, a crash.  The homes never went away. The value of real estate fell dramatically in many places.

Are people still listening to us? 80% of Americans do. Not the 93% of a decade or so ago (Pew Research). This is much better than local TV where only 63% of Americans watch local TV News.

But what is the future?

It is entirely up to Hedge Fund involvement. Will Hedge Funds cut their losses and move on?  If that occurs, will local broadcasters rise again? 

What can YOU do?

It is all about the billing. If you are billing a lot more than you cost, the company will need you, and indispensability is what corporate leaders will see. Make yourself available for Sales. If you are the morning talent, be dressed well enough for a sales call. Make yourself available a few times each week to meet clients. Let salespeople know about the products and services that you use. Radio personalities are influencers. They have huge audiences that listen every day.  Don’t forget your advantage. We cannot control the Hedge Funds, corporate debt or a fast-changing marketplace. 

This was not an exhaustive history, but it illustrates our challenges. Radio programming departments are filled with creative people who just want to entertain. Be aware of our weaknesses and strengths. The Market Manager and sales manager are under huge pressure.  Be that person who understands their concerns.

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