Columns » John Brummett

How do you get your news?

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How do you get your news?

n Roby Brock of Talk Business tacked an interesting question onto his latest poll. It was whether people got their state legislative news during the recent session from newspapers, television, the Internet or other, which would include nothing at all.

Here is what came back: 37 percent said they got their state legislative news from television, 35 percent from newspapers, 15 percent from the Internet and the rest from some other source — local NPR, maybe, or, more likely, nothing at all.

You can do just about anything with numbers. My favorite local liberal blogger, Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times, an old newspaper man who seems to want to hurry along the demise of print because he is now such an on-line master, crowed that 65 percent of people did not get state legislative news from newspapers.

But, then, 85 percent didn't get state legislative news from his Web site and others.

Here's a spin: More than twice as many Arkansans get their news from print as from the Internet. Take that.

(Brantley now tells me he was being flip. I can identify with that. He suspects the truer story is that most people really aren't getting much state legislative news at all.)

The 37 percent saying it gets state legislative news from local television is certainly not getting much state legislative news at all. 

That's because local television stations do not do news so much. Instead they take 30 minutes at 5 p.m. 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to promote their local personalities — celebrities, if you please — to enhance their brand in the community.

They also devote a great deal of these half-hour sessions to going on and on about a weather forecast they could relate in 30 seconds, absent inclement conditions.

There can be, and has been, individually competent state legislative reporting on local television. But the form is impossibly restrictive. 

While thousands of new laws are being made, this television form requires the reporter to pick out one issue of the day, often superficially appealing, and capture useful video and conduct an on-camera interview of a key legislator, with all of this to be crammed into a minute or so.

While the bright young reporter from the local TV station does an interesting little segment on guns in church, they just squandered several million dollars over in the Joint Budget Committee.

Now to newspapers and the Internet: There is this thing called "the digital divide" by which a rural, poor and under-educated state like Arkansas avails itself less than other places of the new communicative empowerment of the Internet. 

That is to say newspapers will hold up better here against the Internet than they will elsewhere, at least for the time being.

While metropolitan newspapers' Capitol bureaus have been tragically gutted throughout the country, a reader in Arkansas can remain relatively well-informed about the state Legislature through our major newspapers.

But the 15 percent getting state legislative news via the Internet is getting it with spectacular ease, immediacy and intimacy, if not always with the context needed. 

I could be clicking around on the computer and wondering about the latest congressional redistricting map presented to the House State Agencies Committee. The aforementioned Roby Brock of Talk Business, actually on-site and working, could use his handy digital camera to shoot a picture of the map from the committee room's press table and post the photo on his blog instantly.

It was a blogger, Jason Tolbert of the Tolbert Report, who extended the session a day by posting that the final congressional redistricting map was messed up.

What I am suggesting — hoping, maybe — is that that there is a natural meshing and co-dependency of print and digital sources that could well serve their fruitful co-existence as well as the general public information needs of a struggling democracy.

A blogger might show you the latest congressional districting map. But it might be a newspaper columnist who would ridicule it next day as the Pig Trail Gerrymander or the Fayetteville Finger.

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