Local News Fails at Journalism

Matt Chatham | Contributing Writer

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Serving much of Oregon with weather, sports, and crime reports, Know Oregon’s Independent Newspaper (KOIN) is a CBS-affiliated station owned by LA-based New Vision TV that broadcasts regular evening news programs out of Portland. Complete with plain-folks interviews, aerial views of featured sites, and meaningless “expert” sound bites, its half-hour news show KOIN 6 at 6 is fully representative of the trite garbage that is regularly spewed out of studios across the nation.

Among other topics, the evening’s programming for February 6 touched on the weather, two homicides, and the story of a “mystery urn” of unidentified cremated remains. None of the features lasted more than three minutes, and the longest was the weather; of the seven reports measured, in fact, the average length was a mere minute. A full third of the half-hour was filled by advertisements, themselves dominated by food, health care, and vehicles. The prim-perfect male-female anchor team tried to exchange lighthearted banter with the all-white crew and the meteorologist repeatedly spoke in the first person in order to make himself out to be the expert while delivering his extremely technical weather descriptions and predictions. Analysis was nonexistent and fear-mongering constant: people should beware neighborhood con-men or an apocalyptic eruption of Mount Hood, not to mention ubiquitous crime (except that violent crime rates have been decreasing for decades). The only reports with a shred of significance were those on a proposal for gay marriage and the Occupy movement.

The shallowness of this program makes one question its real purpose: What is the point of even airing a show that doesn’t touch on anything of greater importance than the usual weather? I mean, the weather was the cornerstone of the news, people. When one includes ads, teasers, and banter (i.e., not news-related) they undoubtedly equal at least half of the total running time. Looking at the content, the only conclusion that can be made is that it was created to fill the usual slot with fear and silliness in order to serve us ten minutes of commercials and boost ratings for the CBS Evening News. And this is no special case; across the United States local news sources open with the same music, the same narrative style, the same anchors, the same subjects. If you’ve heard of one murder you’ve heard of them all, and you’ll be kept updated on every one.

What can we do in order to expose ourselves to worthy content and promote a public discourse with some semblance of depth? For one thing, don’t watch the local news. Actually, don’t watch the news at all; reading the news in a newspaper or, preferably, online gives one significantly more opportunity to digest and interact with it (in my opinion). Don’t accept sub-par “news” that ignores relevant governmental, economic, or social trends in favor of the “mystery urn.” You might even try getting into news yourself by sending articles or letters to your local newspaper or posting on a blog. As a democratic and principled nation we should demand that the media serve us, not themselves, as forums for public discourse and channels for important social issues.

3 Responses

  1. Steven says:

    It baffles me as to why you chose KOIN as your target to criticize televised local news, when the Fox affiliate, KPTV, relies far more on sensationalism and glorified advertisements than actual newscasting. I also note that KPTV chose to talk about penguins in Greenland for more time than the war in Afghanistan or the debates over the economy. KOIN, on the other hand, actually offered good coverage on the Occupy Portland event up to its resolution; allowed itself to be more open-ended on the 2012 election (in 2011, mind you) than other competitors. And this station prominently features a black lead news anchor; so your comment about an all-white news team makes no sense. All in all, Mr. Chatham, your intentions are noble; but your target is undeserving and your research is lacking. I hope that you can learn from this and become a much better writer on your next piece.

    • Matt says:


      First, let me say that I appreciate your response. I didn’t expect to interact with readers on anything I publish in the Commuter and it is pleasing to see that the website has commenting.

      I did not make it clear why I chose KOIN, and to be perfectly honest it was a random event. I happened to see this newscast and was criticizing the station based on this. I do not generally watch local news and basing my criticism of KOIN on a single newscast without much other research or viewing was, admittedly, irresponsible.

      However, I stand by my conclusion that at least this newscast, and presumably the show “KOIN 6 at 6” in general, is unsatisfactory. It is a poor choice, in my opinion, for a show to move so fast or be limited to so little time as to negate any possibility for analysis. I further object to the choice of trivial subject matter and a third to half of the airtime on a news show being taken up by content that is not news.

      Thank you for your criticisms, and I will try to do better on following articles.

      Matt Chatham

  2. This is a great subject. I could teach a whole business class on this subject. I’ve been in the media business in Seattle for several years before I came here to go back to school. The Portland media isn’t the same as the Seattle market in size. PDX is 22 and Seattle is 13 right now. The bigger you are, the more powerful you are. There are a couple of things you have to remember about KOIN that you left out.

    KOIN has had five different owners since it went on the air. Three of them have happened within the last ten years since Lee Enterprises (the same people who own the most of the new papers in this market) sold them in 2000. This is because Portland is a smaller media market and many smaller media companies are going after this market because most major metropolitan media markets are owned by the networks or they owned by bigger media companies that own radio stations and newspapers in several major metro areas. The problem is that many of these companies have had financial difficulties because of the newspaper business that most of them own as well as the lack of radio listeners. Thankfully Belo and Fisher are dedicated to the Northwest and in a lot of ways with their media control of the market, it has made tougher for smaller companies to compete.

    Internally CBS has had a lot of problems with news reliability for quite awile. The CBS Evening News has never been the same since Kronkite left the anchor desk. Dan Rather was fired for his drama and I wondered if CBS was trying to put some better credibility in their news department when Walter was announcing the opening of the news when Katie Couric was the anchor. Some would say that because of the way CBS has covered the network news that it has filtered down to the local news and the lack of viewers they have received. That is a problem because when David Letterman was working on his contract renewal, it was brought up because the 11 o’clock newsasts weren’t obtaining the same ratings as were ABCs at the time. This hurts the local stations because the advertising that they generate from these newscasts is important to how the budget is going to work out.

    This why KPTV has added coverage the way they have. In 2001 the station was owned by FOX until they decided to swap it out for some Florida stations which were in a bigger market than Portland. Since then they placed themselves into PDX. If you own two stations in the same market, the local news gets better saturation.

    You should be happy that KGW and KATU didn’t just combine news operations with Seattle and keep street reporters in Portland while the anchor desk was moved to Seattle. When the digital television coversion was mandated that was looking like a strong possibility that was going to happen. Not to just to Portland but to Spokane, Boise, Yakima, Eugene, and just about every market Fisher and Belo were in. With NWCN setup, the conversion would have been a piece of cake for Belo and since Fisher has all CBS programming being fed from Seattle to the local markets via a major fiber optic network in Fisher Plaza, it would have a matter of simply of flipping a switch from them. When KMTR was owned by by Ackerly in Seattle, he was going to do the same thing too but when he setup his new office complex on Elliot Bay but he ran out of dough and sold out to Clear Channel who studied the same possibility as well.

    Television is a cyclical business and we live a part of the world where Edward R Murrow came from who wanted to make sure that it wasn’t “merely lights and wires in a box.”

    Unfortnately in a lot ways, that is what it has become.

What do you think?