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The State of Media

Posted on 26 December 2009

By Karl Grossman

Media in the United States have been undergoing huge changes—and that goes for Long Island, too. Jaci Clement, executive director of the Fair Media Council and a former Newsday reporter and editor, outlined changes that have happened here at the annual meeting earlier this month of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System.

The biggest has to do with Newsday. Long Island’s only daily newspaper has “closed all foreign bureaus,” noted Ms. Clement’s PowerPoint presentation, cut its news staffs in Washington, Albany and on Long Island, increased use of Associated Press wire copy and “merged operations with News12.”

Commenting afterwards, Ms. Clement said the “basic premise” of Newsday now “is to be a local paper.” Newsday, although a regional paper, used to have major national and international reach. Also, since its purchase by Cablevision in May 2008, Newsday has increasingly, she said, blended its “content” with Cablevision’s news outlet, News12 Long Island.

The Fair Media Council was established in 1979 primarily to push for coverage of Long Island in New York City-based media. That’s still a focus of the Briarcliff College-based non-profit organization. But its broad mission these days, as noted on its website, is advocating for “quality local news coverage as vital for maintaining the community’s quality of life.”

Ms. Clement is extremely concerned about the Newsday situation saying it has “huge implications.” With a shrunken staff and coverage, readers “are receiving less information.” Highly problematic, too, is “one entity” now controlling cable TV on Long Island and owning its only daily.

As for other area dailies, the termination this year of the Long Island weekly section of The New York Times which provided “some diversity” is also “a big deal…A voice was lost.”  Meanwhile, the New York Daily News has reduced its Long Island coverage and New York Post does not “offer a lot of coverage” and tends to favor “sensation over substance.”

As for weekly newspapers, on Suffolk’s East End “the weeklies are very good. I wish they would expand.” In western Suffolk and Nassau County, the weeklies are not of such high quality. And in Nassau especially, most are owned by “chains” with an attitude of “let us put out 15 editions” with very few employees.

As to commercial radio, which used to be bustling with news operations on Long Island, she said that among the now 19 stations here there is only one full-time news reporter—David North at WALK. “In general, radio has gotten out of the news business entirely,” bemoaned Ms. Clement. “If you want radio news, it’s the city stations—880 and 1010.

Regarding the television scene, several of the New York City TV stations—which have long been heavily watched here—are now sharing their Long Island “footage” through a common news service they’ve formed.

Of Cablevision’s news coverage, News12 “is very small,” commented Ms. Clement. Further, it’s an arm of a cable TV company that  has “no mandate to work in the public interest” as do on-air television stations which must do so under licenses granted them by the Federal Communications Commission.

The Schmizzi brothers, owners of Wainscott-based WVVH-TV, “understand the importance of serving the public,” she said. (Full disclosure: I’m chief investigative reporter at WVVH.)

How does Ms. Clement see Long Island’s media future? She anticipates “more cutting back” at Newsday. The “whole concept of printing a newspaper and delivering it” is foreign for Cablevision. She predicted the departure of the paper’s editor which subsequently happened.

“If weekly papers would wake up, they’re the ones with the greatest opportunity,” said Ms. Clement, who has also worked in weekly journalism on Long Island.

On the national scene, in 1983 “50 media companies in the U.S. owned the majority of news outlets,” related Ms. Clement. “Now, it’s down to six.”  And people’s distrust of media institutions is “fueling the popularity of social networking. People are relying on social networking sites to share news and information with those they trust.”

What can you do? “Get involved,” declared Ms. Clement at the event in Bellport. “Demand more from…media outlets. Write letters. Complain directly to them or to the Fair Media Council.”

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