Bureau closings worry DC reporters


Panelists for Tuesday’s NAB/RTNDA joint super session on the changes taking place in Washington expressed worries that the quality of reporting will suffer with many news outlets closing their DC bureaus to save money. Meanwhile, they also noted that President Barack Obama is doing a good job of going over the heads of the White House press corps to take his message directly to the public via new media technologies.

The new President is being “very adept at reaching out over our heads – over the media,” said April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, one of the White House correspondents on the panel. And as the administration uses new technologies to deliver its message, the media is doing the same – although not everyone is so enamored of the latest fads.

“I don’t Twitter. I broadcast,” declared Anne Compton of ABC News. Ryan countered that there is a place for Twitter and Facebook, but that it may be a whole new job for someone, rather than a sideline for network reporters. Yes, she does Twitter, but noting that her boss was in the audience, Ryan said she limits the time she devotes to it.

There could be some old DC hands looking for those Twitter jobs. Moderator John King of CNN noted how many news organizations had closed their Washington bureaus, with newspapers hit much harder than broadcasters. “What is being lost is experience…it is a huge brain drain and loss,” he said. Bill Plante of CBS News said the bureau closures will “lower the level and quality” of news reporting from the nation’s capital.

John Yang of NBC News noted that it was the now-defunct DC bureau of Copley Newspapers that did the digging which led to Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) being sent to prison for corruption. “Will that happen in the future?” Yang wondered.

While there have been traditional media bureaus closing in DC, Mike Allen of Politico.com noted that the White House briefing room has more people crowding into it than ever before, with new media outlets now staffing up. But he insisted that broadcasting is not dead. “No one has better brands in your communities than you do,” he said. So Allen thinks broadcasters will be able to hold their own in new media. His own new media outlet, he noted, is owned by a broadcasting company, Allbritton Communications.

The joint session wrapped up with NAB President David Rehr praising RTNDA President Barbara Cochran as she prepares to step down from her post. “She has fought the good fight,” Rehr said of Cochran’s efforts to advance a reporter’s shield law and defending the free flow of information.

In turn, Cochran declared that “RTNDA’s partnership with NAB has just been extraordinary.” 

RBR/TVBR observation: Obama using technology means he does not have to confront the issues and a press corps that is more familiar and knowledge about issues than he is. We in our biz call it dodging the bullet.