NBC anchor Brian Williams makes $10 million a year; Katie Couric at CBS makes $15 million; Diane Sawyer at ABC makes $12 million; Anderson Cooper at CNN makes $10 million. The average starting salary for a reporter in television news is about $28,000 a year. Can you imagine the kind of news coverage we could get if CNN spent, say, half of Cooper's salary on reporters and researchers? Which do you think would give us a better sense of the situation in Haiti: Katie Couric and her handlers or 15 reporters dispersed around the island?
Television news ratings have fallen 30 percent in the past 10 years, and the decline continues. "Star-based" news is only part of the problem, but it's significant. Too much money is being spent to garner ratings with big-name "talent" — money that could be better spent on actual news gathering.
The same drama is playing out, with variations, in the newspaper industry. The Commercial Appeal has just gone through yet another round of layoffs. Additionally, the size of the paper has been cut by 10 percent. Most of the reduction comes from the "A" section and will effectively reduce the paper's world and national coverage.
The paper's management says the CA is no longer losing money; it's "positioning" itself for the future. Maybe. But cutting established writers and copy editors also has its price in the long run.
That's the problem with corporate journalism in a nutshell: It's top-heavy, concerned more with profit margins and executive pay and bonuses than getting news on the street. The CA, like most American newspapers these days, is a monopoly. It has no competitor nipping at its heels, forcing it to work harder. When reporters are more worried about losing their jobs than beating the competition, everybody loses.
The future is the Internet. We all know that. It's a wild frontier right now — a wooly mix of blogs, aggregators, web-only sites, newspaper, magazine, and television sites. There are no "anchors," no stars, yet most of you probably get the majority of your news on the web. And it costs you no more than your monthly wireless bill — or you're getting it for free at work. But eventually, someone's going to have to pay the people who create the content a living wage. And whoever figures that out will create the next business model for journalism. Somehow, I don't think it's going to involve $10 million news anchors.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."
The rain is coming down, slow and persistent from a low gray sky. It soaks the grass, fills the gutters, and falls hard on the flowers left on the Beale Street sidewalk outside of B.B. King's club ...