Rushville Republican

December 15, 2010

Dawson: A reporter looks at 49

Rick Dawson


Let me start by offering one single humble opinion: There is no greater honor than to be the herald. I’ve enjoyed more than 25 years of doing that at a number of television, radio and print outlets around Indiana and the country. I intend to keep doing it as long as you all let me. It’s always been my dream to objectively inform people of what’s happening in our world. That way each of us can make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. But rarely can we as heralds shout from the tower turret, “It’s 11 o’clock and all is well.” Some of you may have heard that I’m no longer working for WISH in Indianapolis. It was a parting of the ways that was based partly on a difference of opinion about the way we provided content and partly on the fact that as a longtime employee I was making enough money that WISH could easily replace me with two or three people for the same salary. “It’s not personal. It’s business.” I don’t dispute the economics of that. I get it. But there is a backstory in today’s journalistic world that you need to understand. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about us. When the economy tanked and the car dealerships stopped buying advertising, local television was forced to do the unthinkable: reduce staff and desperately improve ratings (revenue). We became the story. It was all about us knocking on doors and shoving cameras in people’s faces so that we could bring you the big stories by asking the tough questions. Sadly, they weren’t the questions most of the viewers wanted to be asked, and based on feedback, they weren’t the stories you wanted to see, either. It’s now all about SVAG. Shock Value and Attention Getting. Instead of us telling you what you need to know, it’s all about us shouting to you about what we found and how we found it. Relevance is not required. The lead line of every story should make you want to keep watching and learning. But the next time you watch the news count how many times the anchor says something like, “Now to a story we first told you about yesterday or this morning or as breaking news just minutes ago.” How about they just tell us the story without bragging about who told us first? Stop wasting my time by selling yourselves instead of telling us what we need to know. The bean-counters keep wondering why the adult demographics keep vanishing and the younger viewers don’t view the way we used to. Here’s a hint. Your product is seen as demeaning by only touching on the lowest common denominators, fear and loathing of things that rarely hit home. It’s an icy truth that has sucked out the warmth that was once the hallmark of the medium. The natural marriage of words and sound, color and clarity, real truth and not contrived stories that always make for great promotion. If we just spent half the time we do pursuing stories that our viewers tell us they care more about, we’d deliver at least a little of the responsibility that you once expected of us. If we can figure out a way to regain that responsibility again, perhaps the gravity of what we are trying to provide can be weighed by you again. My wife (who has a long and strong background in television) reminded me this morning that if there is something you don’t like about what media outlets are doing, don’t think that the decision makers can read your minds. Let them know through phone calls, emails, and message boards. It’s amazing how much weight a single response from you can have when it comes to a response from them. Your world is not always about murder and mayhem. Some nights it would be a pleasure to stand on the tower and remind you that “all is well.” And have you believe it. Rick Dawson is a freelance journalist and a Rush County resident. You can contact him at