NewsBlues editor takes parting shot at ‘unhealthy transformation of TV news’

With the subtlety of a thermonuclear blast, Mike James signed off Friday after 19 years as the self-styled “surly editor” of NewsBlues.com, the daily subscription newsletter on the local television news business.

James is retiring, but NewsBlues will continue under the new ownership of Rick Iler, a former news director and media investor. Iler said he plans to introduce a “new aggressive look, style and feel” to the TV news insider website “while staying true to its iconic, subversive brand.” The new era starts Tuesday.

Mike James

Reflecting on his two decades as an often cynical but always insightful chronicler of the industry, James offered a scorched–earth valedictory to his readers.

Here is an excerpt from his farewell post:

We have watched the unhealthy transformation of TV news: the steady shift to shallow tabloid content; the casting aside of older, experienced talent; the headlong pursuit of younger demographics; the drive to build newsrooms on ethnically-balanced quotas and newscasts on research-driven formulas; the abandonment of investigative journalism out of fear of litigation; the proliferation of 24-hour cable news and its need to fill time with opinion; the politicalization of news and the loss of balance; and the increasingly intense focus to “do more with less.”

And that had led to live shots for the sake of going live; mandatory walk-and-talks; syrupy live TV marriage proposals; weepy personal medical memoirs; mommy blogs and birth celebrations; newsroom sheet cakes; buyouts and layoffs; adrenalin-infused storm chasers masquerading as scientists; local meteorologists with sleeves rolled up interrupting programming for breathless storm alerts in distant counties; bigger, more powerful radars; mobile weather units covered in advertiser logos; beauty queen traffic anchors; TelePrompTer readers in cocktail dresses; endless promotion and slogans and shallow branding; verbless BREAKING NEWS that isn’t; tweets and selfies and sprawling studios meant to overwhelm viewers with style, rather than substance.

We’ve watched a handful of broadcasting companies leverage investment money to gobble up local TV stations by the hundreds, creating ownership behemoths that threaten the public interest by centralizing news production, eliminating competition and diversity, squeezing advertisers, steam rolling retransmission agreements, and generating obscene compensation packages for a handful of executives. Meanwhile, news staffs have been consolidated and salaries slashed. Local television, now dependent on scale, has expanded its local news hole to accommodate more advertising opportunities to pay the bills.

We’ve witnessed the unsound focus on self-congratulatory industry awards, the preposterous growth of regional Emmys®, and the surrealistic expansion of Edward R. Murrow trophies. We’ve watched major universities move from educating journalists to creating TV personalities, who seem eager to build careers on the shifting sands of social media. And we’ve watched a small university in America’s poorest state become an online factory for TV weather guessers. 

On our watch, America’s trust and confidence in the news media has fallen to an all-time low.