Where Is The Line Between Empathy And Exploitation In Times Of Tragedy?
“The questions become harder, our tones softer as we are speaking with those who knew and now have lost people close to them.”
The past week has not been an easy one for members of my chosen professions, past and present. I work in a community that can uniquely call itself both large and small and so when tragedy hits, there is a strong ripple effect that permeates.
Two police officers from a small suburban city in Connecticut were shot and killed last week in what was determined to be an ambush set in motion by an illegitimate 911 call. A third responding officer was shot and wounded but managed to shoot and kill the suspected shooter, who had fired more than 80 rounds at these officers.
The circumstances in the aftermath of course are absolutely horrific for the law enforcement community, their friends and family. Also happening in follow, the numerous issues that surface as the details are learned.
There is hardly a good time to ask questions when these things happen but there is a wanting for information by the public and an expectation of transparency these days that is greater than in times past.
In the early morning hours after this late-night shooting, the media was camped outside the hospital where officers had been transported, it was a typical sight for any major event but it was also a somber environment as a countless number of police cruisers filled the streets and the parking area, officers converging on the emergency room in solidarity and waiting for news.
The sight of a massive American flag suspended from a fire department ladder truck in the hospital parking lot told a story that not all of the reporters were yet aware of. Experience in another field is sometimes a mixed blessing and while I sometimes benefit from recognizing certain cues, this was not a pleasant one.
I was moved by the sincerity and genuine emotion expressed by the other news crews of varying experience. It helps dismiss the myth that the story is the only thing. As the throng of officers at the hospital walked from the emergency room entrance back to their patrol vehicles, it became apparent the awful news had been shared among them. No official word of the magnitude of the loss would come for several minutes but the reporters and the photographers also seemed to comprehend.
Remember also that the working journalists are members of these same communities, they live and breathe here and what happens to their neighbors is felt by them as well. The differences are not as far apart as one would think.
News staff also were stationed as close to the crime scene as permissible and at the police station where the officers worked, a memorial scene initiated and growing by the minutes. People wanting to be somewhere it mattered, community members wishing to help or to be a physical sign of support at a time where an oft-scrutinized profession needed reassurance from those frequently perceived as the nemesis.
It comes as a realization both at scenes and within newsrooms, the magnitude of the loss, the trauma and tragedy of the experience and the horror of the days ahead for those close to what has happened.
A police chief of a one-hundred officer department and a community of sixty-thousand is going to be impacted to a higher and more personal degree than perhaps might be larger agencies and municipalities. It’s not about lesser feelings or empathy, it’s about the closeness of association and contact.
Talking to people and eliciting information is harder and more delicate for any news outlet in the coverage area. The questions become harder, our tones softer as we are speaking with those who knew and now have lost people close to them.
Yet to move on in our coverage of the specific elements of the tragedy, we must do what news people do best; examine the underlying interests, issues and questions. We look at the backgrounds and the lives of those involved, we explore police procedures, the legal system, criminal recidivism and ask again the questions about guns and access to weapons.
It becomes harder to have these conversations even though they are legitimate topics for news outlets to examine and cover. Outside of the recent tragic events, these sidebars are solid subject matter as they delve into what our audience has expressed interest and concern over.
The people we do speak with are often searching for answers and clarity themselves, even though many have been through this before. It still becomes difficult for them to speak to matters of protocol, adherence and expectation. And for the reporter or the interviewer, there is something that often just feels wrong about what you’re doing.
There are always ways for a media member to try and put oneself outside the story but I tend to feel that’s not one hundred percent possible anymore.
And, I’m sorry but if you’ve been doing this a while and have never once felt like you are or have been exploiting someone’s grief and pain while trying to do your job then I don’t know what to say to you.
We simply carry on.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.
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.”
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.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
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.”
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.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
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.”
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.
Peter Wilkinson Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the program director, and morning host of Newstalk KZRG in Joplin, MO. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville and Hunstville. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on Twitter at @PeterThiele.