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Bring on the FCC

Three of the best newspapermen I've ever worked with were Jay Brushart, Chris Chamis and Paul F. Nelson.

For two years, I sat directly between Chris and Paul and diagonally across the Portsmouth (Ohio) Times' newsroom from Jay.

All three had been with the paper for decades prior to my arrival. I learned as much or more from this trio of true newspapermen as from anyone in the business.

Jay passed away several years ago after a bout with cancer. If anyone had a question about usage or newspaper style or was just seeking the right word for a given graph, he went to Jay.

And if anyone "guessed" about the right word and guessed wrong, Jay could be among the harshest critics.

Two examples:

• One editor wrote a dominant Page 1 headline which read "Police chief likes DC tact (sic) on crime." This was a story about a former Portsmouth police chief who had attended a Washington, D.C. forum on law enforcement during President Clinton's first term.

"Somebody around here needs to learn the difference between 'tact' and 'tack,'" Jay growled to no one in particular after picking up the morning paper.

• Then, there was this classic screwup from a new and untrained reporter, back when newspaper reporters routinely answered calls from local funeral directors and wrote the obituaries from a telephone call. This particular reporter wrote of a "Massive Christian Burial" that was about to take place for the dearly departed.

Apparently, the reporter was unfamiliar with the phrase "Mass of Christian Burial."

Paul Nelson and Chris Chamis both passed away last month. Like Jay, the newspaper life was very important to them. And like Jay, they paid great attention to detail in every story, headline and cutline they wrote.

Paul and Chris probably worked together for at least 30 years. Somewhat ironically, they died just two weeks apart.

In thinking about newspapermen like Jay, Chris and Paul, I can't help but wonder what their thoughts would be on the recent revelation that an arm of the federal government had plans to monitor network television newsrooms as well as some radio and newspaper editorial departments.

(Frankly, I don't wonder all that much. I can just hear Chris Chamis telling the Feds to get the hell out of his way and, by the way letting them know in no uncertain terms, "How I build the Front Page is none of your business.")

In case you missed it, the Federal Communications Commission had considered a project in which it would monitor the news content and decision-making from a number of newspapers, radio and TV stations and online news outlets.

This government agency said its goal was to analyze what it considered "critical information" areas of coverage, such as the environment, health and education, transportation and the economy.

The agency said it wanted to assess the coverage of eight “critical information” subjects, including public health, politics, transportation, the environment and “economic opportunities.”

According to The Washington Post, "Among the questions the FCC proposed asking journalists: 'Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your [viewers, listeners or readers] that was rejected by management?”

And: “What was the reason given for the decision?”

Last week, an alert reader of The Highland County Press e-mailed a copy of Jon Rappoport's column at www.nomorefakenews.com.

Mr. Rappoport writes that Ajit Pai, an FCC commissioner, blew the whistle on the government plan to put federal monitors in newsrooms.

"The Orwellian op even covers newspapers, to which the FCC has no regulatory connection," Rappoport points out.

"Keep this in mind: major media outlets are already heavily censored," Rappoport said. "As collaborators with governments and other corporations, they lie on a regular basis and omit stories that would expose the men who are actually running things. So this FCC crackdown is about the leftover bones and bits of flesh.

"If media outlets cared about government agents trampling their home turf, they could implement an easy solution and jack up their ratings through the roof. Film the monitors. Film everything they say and do. Film them when they're giving advice about which stories to run and why. And live-stream that raw film 24/7. Post it online."

My thoughts are similar to Mr. Rappoport's, with a few provisos:

The Feds are welcomed to monitor the newspaper I own and its small, but dedicated news team. In order for the Feds to do this, however, they must relinquish all taxpayer income, insurance and benefits. They must agree to work for the same wages as most small-town journalists in family-owned newspaper operations.

Furthermore, the Feds must agree to work the same hours, on a one-to-one ratio, as we work. No excuses. No exceptions.

In other words, if our sports editor is on assignment 100 miles from the newsroom, the Empty Suit (er, G-man) assigned to our sports editor must travel – in his own vehicle – the same 200-mile round trip.

The G-Man must then be patient while our sports editor covers the game, interviews coaches, writes and edits his story and uploads the story and photos to our website. The G-Man also must monitor all writing, editing, photography and design that goes with each print edition and subsequent delivery.

If the G-Man is still awake, he is welcome to ask any questions about our thought processes and coverage. He'll find no conspiracies against anyone. He'll find only that we work a lot harder than he ever has while polishing a taxpayer-purchased chair with his backside.

At the end of one week, the Federal agent assigned to our sports editor would – in all likelihood – crawl crying back to Washington begging for his undemanding, high-paid and absolutely pointless job with the federal bureaucracy.

Knowing corporate media and big government, as I do, I'm almost disappointed that the FCC caved to the national pressure and pulled the plug on its Big Brother news monitoring idea.

Mr. Rappoport concluded his editorial by writing: "Government news. Don't worry, be happy. The upside is, even more people will shut off mainstream news and go to alternative sources."

(We've certainly witnessed that across the nation and right here in southern Ohio.)

"Meanwhile, the State will shape news tighter, because they believe they can get away with it," Mr. Rappoport said.

Maybe so in some places. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

Our readers and our advertisers are too important to us to break that trust by permitting a bloated federal bureaucracy to set its news agenda.

Sure wish they'd try, though. Almost...

Rory Ryan is Senior Editor, North American Desk, at Paperitalo Publications and the owner of The Highland County Press in Hillsboro, Ohio. He can be reached by email at rory.ryan@taii.com or roryeryan@gmail.com.


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