Fenton criticizes corporate resistance to expanding evening news reports beyond their 30-minute segments and corporate tendencies toward "easy revenue with cheaper outlay and less hard news." But the culprits are not simply the networks:
[T]he public's demands [for more hard news] get dissipated in the complex decentralized structure of channel ownership. Local television stations are the real profit centers [emphasis mine]. The networks that simply supply programs to affiliate stations have slim profit margins, but the owners of the stations make bags of money broadcasting on the nation's free airwaves [emphasis mine]. Which explains why the local stations have always resisted suggestions to expand the network news broadcasts, or move them into the evening hours, which are traditionally filled with the most popular and profitable entertainment shows.Fenton goes on to say that one of the ways to change local stations' constriction and compression of hard news on every level is for groups of viewers and journalists to organize and threaten licenses by constantly reporting local broadcasters to the FCC. The changes made by CBS after Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction," is an example for Fenton of the influence that mobilizing groups can have over programming.
Where do political, media, and news-oriented weblogs stand in this? To me they stand at a critical juncture. Either they can be watchdogs of local media and agents that encourage organizing for broadcasting reform or they can become tools of local broadcasters, some of whom belong to powerful lobbies in Washington and in state houses. Whatever original reporting is done by weblogs provides an important alternative to the watery discharge that often passes for news, but actually only fills up the hypnotic space of "human interest" like the creamy junk filling a spongy twinkie. Weblogs can either allow themselves to become mesmerized by stuff like The Bachelor to follow suit, or they can be a true alternative, providing significant news free of the dumbed-down static of mainstream media.