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Shared service agreements or mergers, Rochester’s media is racing to the bottom

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In many ways it is moot whether Rochester’s media is blurring the lines between legal or illegal consolidation because the overall trajectory for local news is dismal. Whether one voice or five covers most of the daily items—the ubiquitous car accidents, pet abuse, sports scores, acts of violence, sex scandals, and the occasional business ventures that manage to bubble up to the local headlines with equal hyperbole and fervor, we are getting very little of the news we need. The problem is not so much local media consolidation (which should have been addressed long ago) in whatever form it takes; the problem is finding news sources where actual reporters conduct thorough investigations on important news at all.

The City Newspaper’s article this week “Dialing it down: local media changes” is an interesting insight into the Byzantine world of local media machinations to boost ratings, increase branding, and secure more ad revenue. And while the article does at least mention the local media changes as an important concern in the disseminating of better, deeper, and more balanced local news coverage, it is media consolidation that captures most folk’s attention. But I am not so sure that this is our most salient concern the local level. Certainly, at the state, federal level, an international level, I don’t want a Murdock empire of media satellites peppering my information sources with free market fundamentalism, while dismissing environmental concerns. But at the local level, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between stuff plastered on the headlines from one media to another. There are few tough-hitting, competitive, investigative reporting on our county and city government policies and practices. There are fewer muckraking stories that challenge our businesses’ practices on environmental issues. And there’s just about nothing on the most important crisis of our age, Climate Change.

In the 1850’s, the decade before the Civil War, Rochester’s media roiled with inequality issues, starting with Fredrick Douglas’s North Star (anti-slavery newspaper) and Susan B. Anthony’s efforts to get women the right to vote. But in the crisis of our times, Rochester’s media remains mum.

News, an effective fourth estate, is what you need to plan effectively. It isn’t supposed to be an opiate for the masses, pandering to their every whim in order to make money and advance businesses’ interests. It’s supposed to make our Democracy sustainable. It’s supposed to be our eyes and ears so we can make informed choices, not just for elections, but for our future. Climate Change is about planning for the future.

What is our region doing to prepare for Climate Change? I don’t mean what are the few ad hoc entrepreneurial efforts by an intrepid few doing that which merits an occasional happy story. I mean what are we, and our government officials, for doing to insure our water quality, preserve our wildlife, ward off invasive species, maintain the public health, restore our wetlands, clean up our Brownfields, and provide the critical public funds for all those issues? Climate Change will not come cheaply and the private sector hasn’t the power or the money to make our way of life sustainable. Except for a few poignant articles here and there on Climate Change, the prevailing local media zeitgeist on our climate is that we are doing swell; there’s more important stuff to report—even though there isn’t.

There isn’t a local media network, a media institution with the potential to capture the attention of a majority of our citizens, trying to break into the cozy consolidative cabal of Rochester’s local media as much as there is such a prevailing climate of denial where, even as our Arctic melts and our growing seasons change, our local media refuses to acknowledge the existence of Climate Change. If there was such a responsible media on the sidelines, even without media consolidation, they’d have a hard time of it since the disinclination of our present media to report on Climate Change has sown a great distaste for this world responsibility, as if we were an island unto ourselves.

But Rochester isn’t an island. When, as most Rochesterians do these days, gather their news from the Internet, that is, from around the world from innumerable sources, it is quite plain that Climate Change is happening everywhere on planet Earth. Like the evils of slavery and critical importance of women’s rights, Climate Change concerns us all. We are connected. When we burn greenhouse gases here in Rochester, island nations sink thousands of miles away.

With just another click you can follow local issues further by searching for that online. For example, for all the local media dysfunction on Fracking (as the issue is energy in a time of warming, not on just another fossil fuel), one can easily find out about related studies on Fracking the public health and examples of Fracking contamination all over the place—by credible sources. The Internet doesn’t just lead to Joe Blow’s basement blog; it connects to your government, university studies, and world’s media. However, while this level of connectivity allows for the big picture on many issues, it cannot replace local investigative reporting. To find out if our local recycling system is actually recycling stuff and keeping waste from festering, or worse yet, leaching dangerous chemicals out of our landfills into our streams and lakes, we need a local media on the job, asking the hard questions. To find out how Climate Change is actually affecting our region, we need some rigorous reporting on that.

Whatever the media has been, or has degenerated into, during this present media crisis [click here to find out about that: FreePress], it must quickly evolve into a useful information system as things warm up so we can plan effectively. Granted, there are few sensational highlights of Climate Change at the local level, though increasingly at any one time somewhere in the world climate is causing wildfires, tornadoes, sea rise, droughts, and much more. So, not only will Climate Change force changes on our environment, it will force changes on the media.

For a sustainable future our media will always be our eyes and ears, but they will have to see further ahead than they presently do and hear the voices of those in peril far away. If our media tended to consolidate on how to do that, it might not be such a bad thing. But our media tends to consolidate to make more money for fewer folks, which is a bad thing.

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