We reported last week that a study from the Knight Commission was quite critical of the amount of time that National Public Radio stations give to coverage of doings within their signal areas. Now yet another assessment offers the same perspective, this one penned by Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson over at Columbia Journalism Review. Their essay “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” is even more concerned about the trend, actually, both on commercial and non-commercial stations.
“On radio, with the exception of all-news stations in some large cities,” they write, “most commercial stations do little or no local news reporting.” And they continue:
“A growing number of listeners have turned to public radio stations for national and international news provided by National Public Radio. But only a relatively small number of those public radio stations also offer their listeners a significant amount of local news reporting. And even fewer public television stations provide local news coverage.”
The authors mention a few bright spots, but overall: “local news coverage remains underfunded, understaffed, and a low priority at most public radio and television stations, whose leaders have been unable to make—or uninterested in making—the case for investment in local news to donors and Congress.”
What to do? Schudson and Downie say Congress, specifically the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, needs to get busy on this problem. It should declare local news reporting “a top priority for public broadcasting and change its allocation of resources accordingly.” And the CPB should require every public radio and TV station to produce a minimum amount of local programming and require stations to report to the funding agency on their progress. And Congress should change the CPB’s name to the Corporation for Public Media and give it more money.
Finally: “Congress should also reform the governance of the reformed corporation by broadening the membership of its board with appointments by such nonpolitical sources as the Librarian of Congress or national media organizations. Ideological issues that have surfaced over publicly supported arts, cultural activities, or national news coverage should not affect decisions about significantly improving local news reporting by public media.”