Further proof that that a career in electronic newsgathering ain't what it used to be: After firing most of its newsroom staff, a California TV station is asking local citizens to provide fodder for their nightly broadcasts. That's right, KFTY-TV, a miniscule Clear Channel outlet fighting for market share in highly competitive San Francisco, has shit-canned their in-house pros in hopes Sally Joe Housecoat will do the job (for free?). Good luck with that. Hey, I'm all for citizen journalism. Some might even say I'm guilty of it myself. And it's certainly true that much of what passes for nightly news content is stagnant, broken and increasingly irrelevant. But to turn seasoned professionals out on the street so they can exploit cheap technology and eager amateurs is nothing short of pure gimmickry - even if they do lay a new-age name on it (Local Content Harvesting, of course).
Now, before you phone-cam enthusiasts label me an old-media dinosaur, hear me out...I sincerely believe that citizen-driven visuals and common-man commentary have a place in 21st Century news. The advent of household lenses, laptop editing and YouTube ubiquity makes personal journalism a foregone conclusion. And that's a good thing! For far too long, we pros have had all the toys to ourselves. Decades of this broadcast monopoly has resulted in a newscast paradigm that is increasingly dumbed-down, dull and derivitave. Need proof? The next time your'e state-hopping, switch on the hotel TV to the local news. It all looks the same. Rampant consulting has beaten every vestige of regionalism out of local newscasts, leaving the entire form a mere shell of its former self - no matter how they might dress it up with plasma flatties, toothy news-bunnies and superdy-duper Doppler.
In short, we are long overdue for a shake-up. But does the Fourth Estate deserve to be turned into a graffiti-strewn public park? God, I hope not. I'd much rather see my medium of choice receive its much-needed injection in sensible doses. Tricked-out one man bands, now known as VJ's, can complement the output of two-person crews - not replace them. Citizen vignettes can infuse the glossiest of over-produced newscasts with badly-needed organic content. Internet outlets can put a station's quality product in front of eyeballs too damn hip to tune it at 5, 6 or 11. Bring. It. On. But to think an undersized station can compete with whatever they can glean from an mostly unpaid populace is giving the possibilities of all this new wondrous gadgetry incredibly short shrift. In short, beware the gladhanding GM of a tiny affiliate, folks. That's something a maniacal puke in Chocowinity taught me a l-o-n-g time ago.