Monday, October 29, 2012

We Are What We're Fed

The next few days could be a bit dicey, especially for our staff and friends in the Northeastern part of the United States. The worst of Hurricane Sandy will likely be hitting today from Virginia to New York, and even up to Boston - and it doesn't look like just the usual media overreaction when a storm affects that region.

Public and mass transportation has been shut down in DC, Philly, New Jersey, and even New York City. Boston will likely follow later today. Huge areas have been evacuated due to concerns about coastal flooding. Thousands of flights have been cancelled too. Even the 2012 Election - just eight days away - is being affected, with political activity in the area directly in the path of storm pretty much shut down for several days.

Our entire staff, having grown up and lived in Nebraska for many years, knows that the key to dealing with bad weather and disasters is to prepare as best you can, get somewhere safe and stay there, and then deal with the aftermath calmly, quickly, and together with your neighbors. In other words, separate out the news and legitimate information, and ignore the garbage you're being fed about this storm by the hyped-up media. Yes, it's an incredibly bad storm - but it's not the end of the world.

We've been talking a lot this year about what we, as consumers, take in. Our recent discussion of the changes by the USDA to our nation's school lunch programs made it clear our schools have been feeding our kids garbage, at the direction of America's parents - or maybe because of a lack of direction from those parents. Without the proper type, variety and portions of food, too many of America's kids have gotten fat and lazy. That's been the fault of every American - including you.

Now, thanks to the new USDA regulations, childhood obesity may be decreasing - though some kids may still think they're starving.

Our American media landscape has actually become much the same as our school lunch program, a failing that's incredibly obvious during storms like Hurricane Sandy. While "digital journalism" jobs continue to increase in number, what most stories bury near the bottom is that overall media jobs continue to shrink. Executive salaries in corporate media groups have remained high and stockholders have been catered to like spoiled children, just as Murrow warned over fifty years ago. In the meantime, the people who actually do the real work - reporters, air talent, photographers, graphic artists, engineers and more - have been cut, trimmed down, and gutted past the point of sanity.

Multiple national radio companies are - right now - looking at repeating what they did in 2011, eliminating even more personnel, dumping more real estate, and trying to operate the local radio stations they own completely via remote control, with syndicated programming and computers. Some local tv broadcasters already do this. Major newspapers in major cities - like New Orleans and Seattle - aren't any better. Many have shifted to less-than-daily status, or gone online completely over the last few years, in order to meet corporate profit targets. That kind of limping media infrastructure simply can't handle the responsibilities these organizations have to American society when a massive storm or some other major disaster hits - like the low-level tsunami that affected Alaska and Hawaii over the weekend. If you missed hearing about the tsunami, that only further proves our point.

For over thirty years now, Americans have been fed the ideas that greed is good and that corporations - including media entities - should be able to do whatever is in their fiscal best interest, often whether those things are legal or not.

If Hurricane Sandy makes anything clear, it should be that those ideas are no more healthy for America than the all-you-can-eat nacho bars that - until recently - existed in many schools across the U.S.

It's time we followed the example of the schools, with regards to our media. We can't simply accept the journalistic equivalent of junk food news, no matter how much complaining media stockholders do. The airwaves belong to the people, as does freedom of the press. If worldwide media corporations don't wish to follow those rules, they can always go overseas - or they can expect more battles from worker's unions, and more unions in the media in general. In America, we need to re-legislate our media to fulfill their responsibilities to local communities, to staff their outlets to be the right size, and to deliver quality products that fill the needs of Americans, come rain or shine.

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