The Grand Rapids Press and “The Bachelor”: This is News?

The Press has Run 24 Stories--Including 3 Front Page Stories--On The Bachelor

Since the New Year, the Grand Rapids Press has run a large number of stories on the television show “The Bachelor.” Hyping the fact that one of the contestants – Molly Malaney was from Grand Rapids (although she lived at the time in Milwaukee) – the Grand Rapids Press ran 24 stories on “The Bachelor.” Of those 24, 3 appeared on the front page of the newspaper.

Are we really supposed to believe that this is news? As the economy crumbles, while the planet heats up, while people freeze to death because they don’t have heat, and any number of daily horrors, the Press wants to tell us about “The Bachelor”? All of this comes at a time when the newspaper industry is facing declining readership. Apparently, the Press— which earlier this year trimmed parts of the paper in order to “stay in the game” and whose parent company Booth Newspapers continues to face economic difficulties–seems to think that “The Bachelor” will help its fortunes.

As would be expected, the coverage was “fluff”–stories covered the latest developments on the show, what previous contestants thought about it, and what the Press itself thought about the show. These articles–many of which ran in advance of the program–were essentially advertisements for the reality TV series.

the Grand Rapids Press also ran a number of stories reporting on a theory advanced by a blogger that the series finale would take an unexpected twist–Internet conspiracy theory as news. Beyond that, the Press printed a story about a “live blog” that it hosted on its website during the series finale, treating us to insights from folks going by the names “Sweet Tee” and “guiltywatcher.”

Press Editor Defends Decision

While the headlines (see below) and the coverage of “The Bachelor”–much of which hyped the show in advance of episodes or recapped the previous night’s episodes–are enough to make one sick, perhaps the worst part of the coverage was Grand Rapids Press Editor Mike Lloyd’s defense yesterday of the decision to put the finale on the front page.

In a 900+ word column titled “‘Bachelor’ and front page: A controversial match,” Mike Lloyd wrote that many readers had contacted the Press to express outrage that the television program received front page billing. Mike Lloyd also wrote that there was disagreement within the Press as to whether or not to place the story on the front page, but said that he made the decision himself:

“This front page call came from me. I’d never seen a whole show before, either, but I was among the millions of viewers Monday night. Start to finish. I watched, because at the center was a Grand Rapids girl. Tom’s “big deal” description doesn’t cover it. Comments pro or con are anecdotal and not scientific. But the numbers were overwhelming. the Press M-Live Internet site set records for hits, reader comments, unique browsers and return visitors. The papers featuring Molly on the front page showed increases over the same days the week before.

“The Bachelor” bump was huge.

It’s a great debate, but this was the right call.

See you at the wedding!”

So, in other words, if Internet visits are up, it’s worth it. I guess we can all expect more ongoing coverage–yippee.

All of the coverage of “The Bachelor” in the Grand Rapids Press–and the rest of the local media–is a good example of why alternative media is so important. If the Press wants to feed us fluff, it’s up to the rest of us to create alternative media structures that can publicize what really matters.

“The Bachelor” Headlines: This is News?

  • “Second time around – Ex-grand rapids woman vies for nod from jilted bachelor” – 01/04/09 – F1 (Entertainment) – 557 Words
  • “Local Reality” – 01/04/09 – F2 (Entertainment) – 513 Words
  • “GR’s Malaney advances on ‘Bachelor'” – 01/06/09 – B8 (Namedropping) – 102 Words
  • “Molly advances to ‘ Bachelor’ dozen” – 01/13/09 – B8 (Namedropping) – 83 Words
  • “Molly advances” – 01/20/09 – B6 (Namedropping) – 48 Words
  • “Molly gets good and campy with Jason – Time ‘alone together’ a good sign, indeed” – 01/27/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 468 Words
  • “Molly hangs on for G.R. date with Jason – They will hit Egypt Valley, then head to the JW” – 02/03/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 409 Words
  • “Romance in GR: Molly’s big date airs tonight – Egypt Valley and JW Marriott tout their woo factor” – 02/09/09 – A3 (City and Region) – 346 Words
  • “Molly, Jason click in ‘Bachelor’ GR visit” – 02/10/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 431 Words
  • “Fans feast on full plate of reality TV – As some shows wind down, others are cranking up” – 02/15/09 – F1 (Entertainment) – 994 Words
  • “Bachelor with tyke restores show’s luster” – 02/17/09 – B3 (Your Life) – 140 Words
  • “Grand Rapids native makes final two on ‘Bachelor’ – Bungee jumping gives Molly Malaney an edge” – 02/17/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 408 Words
  • “Molly in the middle of ‘Bachelor’ conspiracy theory – Spoiler alert! Blogger thinks he knows how it ends” – 02/19/09 – A1 (Front Page) – 733 Words
  • “Castoff contestant upbeat despite ‘broken heart’ – Jillian Harris disappointed, surprised at abrupt exit” – 02/23/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 516 Words
  • “‘Tell All’ lets jilted dates rehash ‘Bachelor,’ a la soaps – Web rumors involving Molly keep up the hype for finale” – 02/24/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 369 Words
  • “What you need to know about “‘The Bachelor'” – 03/01/09 – F1 (Entertainment) – 466 Words
  • “The players” – 03/02/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 129 Words
  • “Does ‘Bachelor’ backpedal on proposal?” – 03/02/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 977 Words
  • “Rose of sharing – Will Grand Rapids girl win heart of ‘the bachelor’?” – 03/02/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 61 Words
  • “Live blog adds to ‘Bachelor’ fun – Interactive watching is the new reality TV” – 03/03/09 – A5 (City and Region) – 348 Words
  • “Bachelor’s heart leads back to Molly – After proposing to Melissa, he decides that GR’s Malaney is the one he loves” – 03/03/09 – A1 (Front Page) – 608 Words
  • “Smitten Molly is moving to Seattle for Jason – In ‘Part 2’ show, Malaney said she ‘grilled him’ on flip-flop” – 03/04/09 – B1 (Your Life) – 293 Words
  • “Molly almost took ‘Bachelorette’ trail” – 03/05/09 – A2 (Namedropping) – 98 Words
  • “Molly and Jason, it has a nice ring – ‘Bachelor’ winner recounts journey from GR to fishbowl” – 03/06/09 – A3 (City and Region) – 470 Words

How to Watch TV News

Click on the image to purchase this book through Purchases help support

How to Watch TV News is a revised edition of a classic book originally published in 1992. Neil Postman, a well-regarded media theorist, and Steve Powers, a longtime broadcast journalist, wrote the first edition to convince people that anyone relying exclusively on TV news was getting a “vastly distorted picture of the world.” Now Powers has updated the book to provide a wealth of new details, including a discussion of “new media” and the role of television in the current media market.

An Inside Look at the News

How to Watch TV News brings readers behind the scenes of news broadcasts and news stations, exploring how television news is produced and what the underlying motivations are. Central to this discussion is the fact that television news is immensely profitable for networks and local TV stations. The authors compare the price of news programming to producing original television programs, showing that it is considerably cheaper to produce news programs. Moreover, the authors look at the demographics of who watches the news, arguing that the news audience is a highly sought after demographic for advertisers. The book also explores the relationship between commercials and the news, arguing that news is in many ways simply a platform for delivering an audience to advertisers.

Beyond the discussion of news, the authors present a comprehensive picture of how news programs are made. They go through the common jobs in news rooms, looking at reporters, anchors, camera people, assignment editors, and news directors (who get a whole chapter) and explain the process of how something becomes news. The authors also place considerable emphasis on the “show” aspect by discussing the importance of visuals and language in television news. They also look at the content of news programs, showing that they tend to include a lot of feel good stories and weather reports rather than detailed reporting.

What is to be Done?

Postman and Powers argue that we must all critically engage the media and that we not simply be passive consumers of media, which is what the television stations want. To that end, they suggest eight things that we must keep in mind when watching TV news:

  1. In encountering a news show, you must come with a firm idea of what is important.
  2. In preparing to watch a TV news show, keep in mind that it is called a “show.”
  3. Never underestimate the power of commercials.
  4. Learn something about the economic and political interests of those who run TV stations
  5. Pay special attention to the language of newscasts.
  6. Reduce by at least one third the amount of TV news you watch.
  7. Reduce by one third the number of opinions you feel obligated to have.
  8. Do whatever you can to get schools interested in teaching children how to watch a TV news show.

The book also argues that while the emergence of new news sources and technologies is rapidly changing television news, we will need to remain just as vigilant in evaluating those sources.

An Essential Read

How to Watch TV News is an absolutely essential read for anyone that either relies on or has ever relied on television news to make sense of the world. It’s simultaneously eye-opening and outraging, and it is packed with valuable insights into how a news room works and how commercial media decides what is “news.” Moreover, the authors ask larger questions about what that means for our society.

Neil Postman and Steve Powers, How to Watch TV News, (Penguin Books, 2008).

TV News Ignores Economists in Stimulus Debate

Only 5% of Guests Invited onto Major Television News Shows to Talk About the Stimulus were Economists

With the debate over the economic stimulus package in Congress, you would think that economists would be in high demand by television stations seeking to explain a complex piece of legislation to the public.

However, a new study by Media Matters finds that economists made up only 5% of guests invited to talk about the stimulus bill were economists.

The study looked at the Sunday political talk shows and twelve prominent cable news programs. Media Matters found that these shows aired 139 and a half hours of programming focusing on the economic recovery program, with 460 guest appearances. Of those 460 guests, only 25 were economists.

Instead of focusing on what economists have to say either in favor or against the plan, Media Matters says that television news has favored conservative commentators and politicians denouncing the plan.

Study Finds Network TV Excludes People of Color

A new study by the NAACP has found that people of color are largely excluded from network TV–both on-screen and in off-screen roles such as directing and writing. The report argues that while some progress has been made since 1999, network TV still fails to deliver on promises of “diversity.”


A new report from the NAACP titled “Out of Focus, Out of Sync–Take 4” shows that network television fails to offer diversity.

According to the study, there is a “critical lack of programming by, for or about people of color.” Television networks including ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC–all of which can be seen in West Michigan–have failed to increase the number of people of color seen onscreen or in behind-the-scenes positions as creators or executives.

In response to the findings, the NAACP is calling on the networks to revisit a 2000 agreement to diversity. The organization is also calling for the establishment of a task force made up of network executives, the NAACP, and other civil rights groups.

If gains aren’t made, the NAACP has suggested that it may pursue some form of legal action such as a class action lawsuit. A boycott against an unspecified network has also been mentioned.

From the report:

“minority communities are still not adequately represented on broadcast television relative to their numbers. Qualitatively, when they are represented, their characters and storylines, by and large, remain subordinate to those of their white counterparts. Despite small gains by minority actors, Caucasian actors continue to dominate television and motion pictures as seen in the yearly data provided by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).”

Local TV Stations don’t want to Adopt New FCC Rules

In 2005, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) organized a campaign to educate people about the License Renewal process that radio and TV station must go through every eight years in order to use the public airwaves. We told you how stations only have to pay $75 to renew their license with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and how limited their obligations are to the public. Now the local TV stations are fighting new FCC requirements.

According to a new media alert from the group Stop Big Media, the FCC has voted to make TV stations more accountable to their viewers by disclosing basic information about the ways they serve the public.

The new rules will help you monitor the media and make your voice heard. They require stations to form community advisory boards and have someone in the studio at all times for public safety alerts.

In addition, stations would have to post information on station ownership, educational and community programming, and public complaints on their Web sites. This information helps communities’ pressure stations to improve their programming — and even challenge their licenses at the FCC if they’re not meeting local needs.

Big Media’s lawyers and lobbyists are fighting rules like these. They are telling the FCC that no one cares about how their stations do business.

Prove the lobbyists wrong: tell the FCC you care about local media by participating in this campaign. Click here to send a message to the FCC.

2006 Newzees Awards Fundraiser for GRIID

The 2006 Newzees Awards, the annual fundraiser for the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), will take place on December 8, 2006. The Newzees will highlight the “best of the worst” of local television news reporting which in past years has meant stories about cats locked in houses, Osama bin-Laden urinal covers, and a slew of product placements. After watching the worst clips in a variety of categories, the audience will be able to vote for the worst story for each category. It’s always an entertaining way to celebrate the important work that GRIID does, from their election coverage projects to maintaining the Progressive Directy of Western Michigan. In order to get people excited about the Awards–which will take place at 7:00pm at the Wealthy Theatre–GRIID has produced the following trailer:

FCC Proposes Media Ownership Rule Changes to Allow for Further Corporate Ownership

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently accepting public input on a series of rule changes that would allow corporations to control more of the media. The consolidation of media sources in the hands of an increasingly small number of corporations has limited access to independent information and stifled reporting on local issues.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently accepting public input on a set of proposed media ownership rule changes that would allow for increased corporate ownership of media outlets. According to the Stop Big Media coalition, a group organizing to stop the rule changes, the changes would exclusively benefit large media corporations while harming local communities by stifling viewpoints, limiting diversity, and failing to cover local issues. Five media corporations—Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, News Corp, and NBC/General Electric control most of the media consumed by people in the United States. These five corporations own the four major broadcast networks and most cable channels, while also owning a significant number of radio stations, publishers, internet sites, record labels and venues, and movie studios, yet the proposed rule changes would allow media corporations to control even more media outlets.

The rule changes are contained in a June 21, 2006 draft proposal by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. While the text is fairly vague, Martin (at the behest of large media corporations) are pushing for the rule changes, as they would eliminate two rules that are particularly hated by media corporations. The two rules, one that prevents companies from owning both a newspaper and a broadcast television station in a single market and another that prevents corporations from owning more than one television in a major market, are just two of the proposed rule changes. These two rules alone would allow a media corporation to own a market’s major newspaper, three television stations, and eight radio stations, thereby controlling much of the flow of information in a given area. The FCC has also proposed eliminating current rules limiting the cross ownership of radio and television stations, with corporations currently being limited to owning two television stations and six radio stations in markets where there are at least 20 independent outlets. The FCC is proposing to eliminate these rules entirely. The FCC is also looking at the possibility of adjusting radio ownership rules, where companies are currently allowed to own a maximum of eight stations in a market provided that there are a total of forty-five stations in a market, the FCC may adjust the counting methods to allow NPR stations to count towards this total, thereby allowing corporations to own more stations by redefining small markets as large markets.

However, while the consolidation of media ownership has increased the profits of the large corporations that control the media, it has had a detrimental effect on the quality of local media. Media consolidation has limited independent information, with two-thirds of independently owned newspapers and one-third of independently owned television stations disappearing since 1975. Since 1996, corporate radio ownership has increased by 34% with the largest corporation—Clear Channel—owning more than 1,200 stations. Minority ownership, a critical source of diverse viewpoints, is down 14% since 1997 while only 1.9% of television stations on minority-owned. Like the national statistics, ownership of media outlets in Grand Rapids is held by a number of large corporations and views are similarly limited. The Grand Rapids Press is owned by Advance Publications, a company owning a variety of newspapers and magazines published across the United States. The local broadcast network television stations are owned by Gannett, Tribune Company, and Lin TV, while the cable system is owned by the media giant Comcast. In radio, ownership is even more consolidated with Clear Channel Communications owning nine stations, Regent owning five, and Citadel Broadcasting owning four. As anyone who has attempted to find quality local content in the newspaper, on the television, or on the radio in Grand Rapids can attest, it is nearly impossible to find a broad selection of voices and views in the local media.

In 2003, the FCC tried to push through similar rule changes in 2003, with the FCC voting 3 to 2 along party lines to lift broadcast and newspaper cross-ownership restrictions, loosen limits on local broadcast ownership, and to permit one company to own stations reaching 45% of the national audience. However, the changes, enacted with little public input, were met by widespread opposition from media activists and media reform organizations that organized their members to speak out against the changes. According to the Stop Big Media coalition, in which many opponents of the 2003 rule changes have become active, 3 million people contacted the FCC and Congress to oppose the rule changes. In response, the Senate voted to overturn the rule changes and Congress reached a compromise limiting the number of stations that one company could own to 39% of the national audience. In 2004, a Supreme Court ruling in the Prometheus Radio Project vs. the FCC case overturned the remainder of the proposed rule changes, opposing the cross-ownership of broadcast television stations and newspapers in the same market, charged that the FCC used faulty methodology in justifying the rule changes, and asserted that the FCC needs to prove the need for ownership restrictions to be removed otherwise the ownership limits should remain.

The 2003 victory against media rule changes was a major victory for media activists and the campaign against the current set of rule changes could be another victory due to significant organizing on the part of the Stop Big Media coalition. The coalition has united a diverse array of groups—many of whom were involved in the 2003 victory—to oppose the rule changes. Aside from media organizations such as Free Press, the Center for Media and Democracy, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), and the Prometheus Radio Project, the coalition also has attracted entities such as the AFL-CIO (Department for Professional Employees), the National Council of Churches, Public Citizen, and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition among others. Aside from a highly informative website on the issue, the Stop Big Media coalition has produced short videos on the subject, attended both official FCC hearings and organized hearings on media consolidation, and created a series of online email actions designed to facilitate the process of making a public comment on the rules before the FCC’s December 21 deadline. The coalition is urging people to file public comments telling the FCC to protect localism, promote minority voices, and to stop burying studies showing that media consolidation is harmful. The coalition is also calling on people to send letters to their local newspapers as another way of educating people about the rule changes.

Study Shows Videos Produced by PR Firms Continues to Air as “News”

A new study by the Center for Media and Democracy has found that television stations around the country continue to air corporate produced video news releases (VNRs) without identifying their source, despite an FCC investigation into the issue.

A new study by the Center for Media and Democracy has found that news stations around the country continue to air video news releases (VNRs) produced and sponsored by corporations. This is despite a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation undertaken in response to a previous study by the Center earlier this year. VNRs are corporate funded public relations videos that are designed to resemble independent news reporting and frequently promote products or even positions friendly to corporations or industries. For example, in addition to a host of VNRs promoting products, the study documented one VNR that was designed to promote doubt about global warming. According to the study, the VNR had ties to the oil giant Exxon-Mobil.

The aforementioned VNR promoting skepticism regarding global warming is just one of 54 VNRs (around 2% of the estimated 5,000 given to television stations in a six-month period) documented in the Center for Media and Democracy’s “Still Not the News: Stations Overwhelmingly Fail to Disclose VNRs” study. The study, a follow up to the April 6, 2006 “Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed” study; found that news stations are still failing to disclose which entities produced VNRs. The Center found that 90% of the time television stations made no attempt to disclose the source of the VNR and often made it appear to be a legitimate news story by re-recording the narration, editing the segment, or even removing corporate supplied disclosure notices. Public relations firms produce the VNRs to integrate advertising into newscasts with the understanding that in an era of media consolidation, cuts in news staff, and emphasis on generating profits from newscasts, stations are likely to air VNRs as a means of reducing costs. As media ownership has consolidated the use of PR packaged news has increased as a way of enhancing profits, with 80% of the stations implicated in the Center’s research being owned by large media conglomerates such as News Corp, Tribune Broadcasting, Gannett, and Sinclair Broadcasting.

The initial study resulted in an FCC investigation, launched in August, in response to organizing that led to tens of thousands of letters being sent to the FCC according to Free Press, a group that organized a campaign against fake news. When the FCC began its investigation by sending letters of inquiry to the owners of the 77 stations cited in the original report, two industry groups responded with an active campaign designed to end the investigation. The Radio-Television News Directors Association sent a letter to the FCC in October urging that the investigation be halted and that the letters to the stations be rescinded, as it opposed any enforcement action by the FCC before the completion of a more general review of VNR usage and believes that sponsorship identification rules do not apply “in most cases where a licensee has not received or been promised consideration for broadcast of certain material.” The Association, with a code of ethics for news reporting that would seem to prohibit the airing of unsourced VNRs, has failed to oppose such VNRs despite their self-proclaimed duty of setting standards for news gathering and reporting. The National Association of Broadcast Communicators, a consortium formed by fifteen public relations firms over the summer in response to the organized campaign against VNRs, is calling for voluntary industry self-regulation. Despite the PR industries attempt to dismiss the issue, it is clearly a problem, with eight of the stations under investigation by the FCC airing VNRs during the second study period.

Free Press has setup an online email action that readers can use to call for the FCC to extend its investigation, as well as state-specific email actions for states where VNRs have aired. The Center for Media and Democracy has documented the airing of three VNRs in Michigan and consequently readers are able to send a Michigan specific message to the FCC as well. VNRs aired in Michigan were documented on WWTV-9 in Tustin (Cadillac area), WILX-10 in Lansing, and WJBK-2 in Southfield (Detroit area).

Gubernatorial Television Ad Spending Passes $50 Million

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm have spent a combined total of more than $50 million on television advertisements even as ad buys continue according to research conducted by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN). According to numbers compiled by the MCFN, DeVos for Governor has spent $27 million since it began running ads in February while Granholm for Governor has spent $7.6 million. The campaigns have also been supported by a variety of issue ads, with the Republican Governors’ Association spending $2.2 million and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce spending at least $500,000 on ads supporting DeVos, while the Michigan Democratic Central Committee has spent $11.4 million and the Coalition for Progress spending at least $1.5 million on ads supporting Granholm. In the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo market, over $4.8 million has been spent by DeVos and $1,392,845 has been spent by Granholm.

DeVos has bankrolled much of his campaign himself, with DeVos and his wife Betsy DeVos providing $34.7 million of the campaign’s $41.2 million in contributions. Among self-funded state campaigns across the United States since 1998, DeVos ranks second this election cycle and sixth overall.

Commentary: What to do now that the elections are over?

Media Mouse has posted Jeff Smith’s latest Recoil commentary, titled “What to do now that the elections are over?” Assuming that most people will be reading it after the elections are done on November 7, Smith asks what are we going to do now that all the political advertisements are no longer on the air in Grand Rapids. Smith argues that the ads have done nothing to educate voters and have only benefited broadcasters through increased profits:

Here’s an idea, how about we use all the money raised in political campaigns to pay people currently unemployed. Or maybe we could put that money into public education or health care for those who have none. Silly me, then the radio and TV broadcasters wouldn’t make a shit load of money off of the democratic process. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network TV broadcasters in West Michigan had made a combined $5.3 million. So what’s the incentive to actually inform voters? No matter what the broadcasters tell us, it is hard for me to see informing the public is what TV news has done.

Read “What to do now that the elections are over?”