Monday, May 11, 2009

Local TV News and American Idol

Today's NYTimes has, in its print edition, an ironic juxtaposition -- on the far left and far right columns, stories about the struggles of local TV news and the success of American Idol.

The audience for American Idol continues to shrink, yet Fox manages to squeeze out more and more profit thanks to the aggressive sales of such ilk as trading cards, partnerships with iTunes, and even the disturbing thought of branded of ice cream. While you might be tempted to call this yet more evidence of culture death, you gotta give 'em credit for wringing a few more bucks out of the old franchise.

For local TV news, well, the news ain't so good. With a shrinking audience and shrinking revenue (all those car dealers with no money to spend on local ads), the TV guys look a lot like the newspaper guys -- except with better hair.

So why the irony? Journalism is kinda stuck since it can't easily market its product or use tie-ins (yeah, local TV does this some and it's ethically questionable) or sell trading cards or have Action News Ice Cream. Magazines tread awfully close to what we used to consider ethically questionable behavior (sweetheart deals with advertisers, etc.).

Journalism has a lot of choices to make. We can go the route local TV news and mags have used for years, doing questionable tie-ins with people, placing "stories" for clients, that sort of thing ... or not. Today's NYT front page picture of some military guys involved in a cyberwar game is an interesting example. Right there on the back of the monitor is the Dell label. Holy free advertising, batman! The rules of journalism are simple: never add stuff, never make up, never change what someone said, or what a photo shows. You can't photoshop out the Dell label, so should you instead ask Dell to pony up some bucks for the free advertising?

The journalism guy in me says nope. Never. Not in a million years. But that journalism guy, he's hungry and he's desperate.

American Idol would do it.

Should we?

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