School’s in … if you believe in it

There’s an old running debate among journalists: Are we a profession or a craft? Generations of journalists before us either did not have a college degree or if they did, it was not from a J-school. That’s because colleges and universities didn’t start journalism programs until the 20th Century.

Some of the most gifted and hard-working journalists I have known do not have a degree. Yet, they are brilliant photographers and strong writers–curious, ethical practitioners of what they and I believe is still a valuable element of democracy.

Interestingly, it is not the non-degree holders who often stir up the debate about the value of a degree in journalism. Some who have that sheepskin exhibit a curmudgeonly, contrarian view about the value of a journalism education. That’s fine. I have reviewed my share of job applications from people with even name brand degrees and not a great deal of acumen in journalism.

I appreciate contrarians. But if you hold that view, then please don’t ask me about how to get into teaching. If you don’t believe in it–journalism and the teaching of it–you shouldn’t waste your time and the students’ time in a classroom. That’s the essence of this piece I wrote for the RTDNA Communicator.


Now, that’s a career

We journalists are competitive by nature. We compete against other news organizations. We even compete against each other in the same newsroom–for a scoop, for the lead story, for the most air time or digital space.
Yet, every once in a while, we pause to note the accomplishments of a worthy competitor, one who is truly a colleague in the community of disparate personalities that is journalism.
Such is the case with this piece I wrote for the RTDNA Communicator. Think about what 45 years looks like in the same business–almost all of it in the same city and same TV station. Now, you’re ready for David Louie’s story.

NFL & FCC: Not just losing the case, losing a little control

Tough day for the NFL. Tough month, actually. Maybe a tough year.

Two separate harbingers of bad news hit the league today: The FCC ended its endorsement of blackout rules for games that don’t sell out, while separately, a brain injury group objected to parts of the proposed $765 million settlement for concussion-related injuries.

That’s on top of all the recent stories about the NFL’s admitted botched handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. The investigation continues into whether someone in the NFL offices actually saw the elevator knockout tape before the original two-game suspension was announced.

Doctors and others have argued for years that the NFL is late to the table to discuss the impact of all of those hits on players’ brains.

And now, the NFL can’t lean on federal regulations to justify the blackout rule for home games that don’t sell out in time.

FCC 5, NFL 0

The FCC’s ruling was a blowout: a 5-0 vote.
Note here: As the Associated Press deftly points out, that doesn’t mean blackouts will automatically go away. They are enshrined in contracts between the league and the broadcast and cable networks that carry the games.

Still, any future blackouts will be an NFL rule only, not a government regulation.
Are they much of an issue anymore? Not really.

In a 17-week regular season last year, the AP reports only two games were blacked out for home fans. In a league in which 20 teams do NOT make the playoffs every year, fans still showed up week after week, to watch teams that were out of realistic contention as early as mid-November.
That speaks well of the product the NFL produces for fans at the stadiums each week.

Product of the ‘70s

The AP notes the blackout rule was created in 1975 when only about 40 percent of the league’s games sold out. A blackout would force fans to the stadiums to see the game in person, so the reasoning went, and then those who couldn’t go to the game would be able to watch at home.

But even though the league now gets most of its revenue from TV contracts, it did not want to give up the blackout rule. In its argument before the FCC, the NFL warned (threatened, really) that if it didn’t get its way on the blackout rule, it would move more games from free broadcast TV to pay channels.

That would be the same NFL that, without government inducement, allowed its Thursday night games to air on free broadcast network CBS this year, while maintaining a simulcast on its own cable TV channel, the NFL Network. Want to guess the ratings of this year’s Thursday night games compared to last year’s?

Does the NFL really want to cut off its nose to spite its face, by moving its TV games away from the fans?

Command and Control

Or is it really more of an issue of control? The league and the owners are used to getting their way—on stadium deals tied to not so subtle threats to leave town, on TV network deals and on the ill-advised 2006 plan to ban local TV cameras from the sidelines.

OK, that last one eventually died, but only after heavy pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Press Photographers Association, the Radio Television News Directors Association (as it was known then) and the Society of Professional Journalists. (Full disclosure: I’m a member of the latter two groups.)
It was bad policy.
It was indefensible.
But it was control of the event.

Eventually, the NFL relented, but with a compromise that still demonstrated its primacy. Still, a measure of control.

Now comes word that another pillar of government support could get knocked out from under the NFL: its anti-trust exemption. The Hollywood Reporter says some members of Congress are working on it.

So you can understand why today, people working in the NFL front office might be humming the old Coasters song, “Charlie Brown.” That’s the one with the refrain, “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?”

The timing may be extraordinary and coincidental with the FCC ruling and the brain injury group weighing in on the same day. But those issues—and player discipline—are controversies that have been brewing for years.

The NFL is still king of the hill—the TV ratings champion, the master of the stadium sellout, the $9 billion juggernaut. But if there’s a lesson it can take away from all of these otherwise unrelated issues, it’s that a little more humility, a little more humanity and a little less control can go a long way.