Friday, August 29, 2014

Pay Money, Get Interviewed!

An Everett community leader was interviewed on KSER and she didn't have to pay.

KSER's Ed Bremer interviews hundreds of people every year - Friday afternoon he spent a full hour in the studio interviewing Sylvia Anderson, the CEO of the Everett Gospel Mission.

Sylvia is also co-chair of the Community Streets Initiative, a task force focused on street level social issues  - homelessness, drug use and other problems.

Ed Bremer interviewing Sylvia Anderson
And just like the hundreds of other people who have been interviewed on KSER, Sylvia Anderson didn't have to pay for the air time. Discussing these important issues is the type of community service that is the foundation of KSER.

It may sound like something from The Onion or Saturday Night Live, but, apparently, at least one commercial radio station has been charging a fee for news coverage. Not a fee for listeners, but a fee to the subjects of news stories.

The mayor of Nogales, AZ claims that news coverage and commentary about his city turned sour when the mayor took office and the city stopped paying the town's top radio station for news interviews.

Is that possible? A radio station making town officials pay for news coverage?!?

Oscar Felix Sr., the General Manager of KOFH-FM told The Arizona Republic that it's appropriate to charge for news interviews, but his station's financial arrangements with the city have no influence on news coverage and commentary.

The city is asking the Federal Communications to investigate. Is this just an extreme example?

A few weeks ago, several news sites reported that the online version of the Washington Post had placed links for Amazon products within the body of news stories. A Post official said it was a computer mistake and the Amazon links, normally placed in the margins of online stories, were inadvertently moved into the body of one story. The Washington Post is now owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

How many times have you checked a news website and clicked on a compelling headline, only to realize it was actually an ad. Sometimes you see that small, faded 'advertisement' warning before clicking, sometimes you're click-bait.

The news business, especially traditional newspapers, are struggling to survive in the ever changing and immediate world of internet, mobile and social media news coverage. Having a staff of dozens of union reporters is challenging when you're competing with websites that are being operated with a skeleton crew and free-lance (or just free) 'reporters.'

But when the advertising lines become so blurred that the you can't tell the difference - or when traditional media starts charging politicians for news coverage - it should set off some alarm bells.

It's tough enough to know how much influence advertisers might exert over news outlets when they pay thousands of dollars for commercials or when major politically driven foundations dole out big grants to public TV and radio.

But, if the so-called watchdogs are beginning to charge 'newsmakers' for coverage, then how will citizens ever know the real story about much of anything?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our Sources of Information are Corrupted

It seems harder than ever to trust the news.

The cable channels all seem required to have a point of view - Fox News is for conservatives; MSNBC is for liberals; CNN is supposed to be 'down the middle'. But just this week, in covering the protests and police response in Ferguson, Missouri, CNN used this breaking news graphic:

Turns out the 'source' in this case was apparently a female caller to a radio talk show. No one could confirm if she was at the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown or not.

One person who thinks news coverage is part of the problem is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In an essay for Time, the former NBA and college basketball great asks, "How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent." You can read the full Kareem Abdul-Jabbar essay here.

But even Time isn't the pillar of journalistic integrity you may have once considered it to be. Just this week Hamilton Nolan at the website Gawker published this story on how Time is ranking its writers and reporters based on several factors, including website hits and how beneficial a reporter's stories are to advertisers!

There's nothing wrong with quality advertising. After all it kept great newspapers afloat for decades and kept great news shows like 60 Minutes and Nightline on the air for years. But there used to be an imaginary wall between the editorial content and the men and women selling the ads. Now, however, we see a legendary news organization judging reporters on their 'advertising-friendliness.' What's a reporter supposed to do...especially in this day and age of fewer good reporting jobs?

I started seeing this destruction of the imaginary wall between editorial and advertising more than a decade ago. I worked for a large radio chain with headquarters on the East Coast. They were trying to seal a huge advertising 'buy' with WalMart at a time when many towns and communities were trying to fight new stores coming to their area. It was also a time when WalMart did very little radio advertising. We got a visit from a regional manager of the radio company who suggested we should try to avoid any negative content on the air about WalMart. It was understood to be a very strong suggestion.

How do we turn this around? Good question. Twenty years ago, 90% of the broadcast media in the US was controlled by 50 companies. Now 90% of the broadcast media is controlled by 6 companies.

For every independent media outlet like KSER and every hard-hitting journalist like Amy Goodman, there are cities full of corporate-owned cookie-cutter formatted radio and TV stations. That old saying about the people owning the airwaves is starting to seem quaint. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

KSER Foundation Board of Directors

Four local citizens were elected to three-year terms as members of the KSER Foundation Board of Directors Tuesday evening, August 12, 2014.

The four newly-elected board members are Alan Jacobson, Branch Manager of the Evergreen Branch of the Everett Public Library; Nina Martinez, a health care business consultant and Chair of the Latino Civic Alliance; Robert Shoup, Engineer; and Laurie Wheeler, Owner of Maestra Communications.

Our community is fortunate to have a group of hard-working people who are willing, on a volunteer basis, to serve as board members for the KSER Foundation.

"We need a voice that doesn't belong to corporate America. The value of public radio lies in the fact that it is beholden to its listeners alone. Every public radio station is invaluable."
                   - Alan Jacobson

Alan Jacobson

"I believe public radio is a powerful solution to bring communities together. KSER effectively promotes well-informed information to its listeners and challenges them to think in broader terms."
                    - Nina Martinez

Nina Martinez

Strong communities have an informed and involved public that is engaged in arts, education and political issues. KSER and KXIR have an important role in supporting these initiatives.
               - Robert Shoup

Robert Shoup

"Our airwaves are owned by the people and should reflect the diverse and divergent views and cultural expressions of the people. I love KSER's commitment to broadcasting local voices and regional points of view."
                 -Laurie Wheeler

Laurie Wheeler
The four newly-elected members join eight other KSER Foundation Board members who are currently serving on-going terms on the board.

You can learn more about the entire KSER board online at