Infotainment, not political bias, threatens Colorado journalism

About a year ago, I thought I’d try to find some common ground with KOA Radio talk show hosts Mike Rosen and Jon Caldara, whose day job is executive director of the right-wing Independence Institute.

On their radio shows, these guys have regular anxiety fits about “liberal media bias” at the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. I don’t think it exists, and they’ve never proven that it does.

But I thought I’d see if we could agree that political bias—conservative or liberal—is not the biggest problem facing local journalism, by a long shot.

(Jason Salzman) Would Caldara and Rosen agree with me that a more serious threat to Colorado journalism is infotainment, the toxic mix of entertainment and news that’s billed as journalism?

“No, I’m not concerned about it at all,” Rosen told me as I listened in shock. “Infotainment is simply a response to the market. It’s what people want.”

And besides, he says, there’s nothing you can do about it.

So, I thought I’d try my luck with Caldara.

Yes, he told me, he hates infotainment and never watches local TV news.

But he’s happy that people are migrating away from the mainstream media and finding other sources of news.

He’s happy to let the market rule.

I was hoping these guys would join me in urging journalists to resist giving people what they want at the expense of what they need to know to make decisions in a democracy.

I was even thinking maybe they’d agree with me that infotainment is a serious enough problem—whether you’re conservative or progressive—that we might consider regulatory remedies, like mandating that broadcast outlets serve up five minutes of election-related content each night in the month prior to an election.

But no such luck.

Caldara and Rosen were apparently fine with the decline of journalism as we know it.

And I’m sure they’re still fine with it, even though the creep of infotainment into mainstream media has only gotten worse in the past year.

The dailies are thinner, with less money and fewer reporters.

Even local TV news outlets are cutting their budgets, despite already being the poster children for infotainment. With less money, you can bet they will even get worse.

But still, I’m more worried about the future of journalism in Denver. I can live with the state of journalism now.

Some of my friends roll their eyes when I say this, but I think we’d be in great shape if everyone in the state spent a half hour reading the Post or the Rocky each day.

They’d get plenty of information about the daily functions of representative government to be good citizens. The thrust of the dailies’ coverage is center-right, probably, but mostly it’s fair and accurate.

Beyond the dailies, we have great community radio options, a choice of public radio options, an excellent progressive public TV station (KBDI, Channel 12), a quality alternative weekly (Westword), and obviously there’s, which is a pioneer in reporting news online from a progressive perspective. Plus there’s a strong progressive blogging community in Colorado.

And we’ve got another national pioneer in Colorado Media Matters, which is exhaustively monitoring local media for conservative misinformation, and in doing so acts much like a news operation itself. There’s no outfit like it in the country, liberal or conservative, and I think it’s making an impact on mainstream reporters.

So there are clearly news options for those who make the effort to find them.

But for the vast majority of us, who passively rely on the local mainstream media, local TV and dailies, the future looks uncertain at best and bleak at worst, as entertainment values replace journalistic values in the “news” industry.

In the end, this hurts us all, even Mike Rosen and Jon Caldara. They just don’t understand. Or is the destruction of journalism in America part of their campaign strategy?

Jason Salzman is a freelance media critic at the Rocky Mountain News and author of Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits.

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