By Mark Beardsley
Thanks to The Wall Street Journal, we learned that the Federal Communications Commission had a plan to place “researchers” in U.S. newsrooms to learn how editorial decisions are made.
The Obama administration has since shelved the idea, but we at MainStreet Newspapers wholeheartedly encourage the FCC not to be deterred by First Amendment zealots who feel like freedom of expression would be hampered by having a bureaucrat on site. This could be as successful as Fast and Furious.
I’d love to have a federal employee in the newsroom, except we don’t really have a newsroom. My office is up front, our reporters occupy four other individual offices, and there are four cubicles in the back where reporters show up when they’ve nothing better to do. Either one researcher would have to scamper about to cover all those spaces, multiple researchers would be required, or there could be a presidential directive requiring news organizations to consolidate news departments.
I imagine something like the TSA fulfilling this role, except instead of wisecracking at body shapes during full-body scans, and frisking toddlers in strollers, an agent would take notes while I talk to David Zellner to learn that the Commerce Planning Commission won’t meet, thumb through my Rolodex to see if I’m calling too many conservatives and require me to take all calls on speakerphone.
Unfortunately, there is a fundamental flaw to the FCC plan. Editorial decisions are not made in the newsroom. Reporters don’t (or claim they don’t) have any idea how or why editorial decisions are made. In fact, aside from discussing fantasy football standings, the most common diversionary action in the newsroom is speculating about how editorial decisions are made.
Thus, the FCC observers just might solve one of the great mysteries of journalism. I, myself, have often watched talking heads on TV and wondered how in the hell they formulated the opinions offered, since they do not seem to be supported by facts.
A better approach would be to require that all news organizations have an FCC member on their editorial boards — except we don’t have those either. The Wall Street Journal may have an editorial board, but not MainStreet Newspapers. Still, I’m sure CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and the New York Times have editorial boards where over drinks positions are taken and defended, but each of the MainStreet Newspapers editors is on his or her own to come up with an opinion piece.
I don’t know how the other editors do it, but most of my editorial ideas come from reading the newspaper. It turns out our reporters’ stories about local government provide a wealth of inspiration.
Mark Beardsley is the editor of The Commerce News. He lives in Commerce.