In some countries, the government pays to inform people about when the elections are and who won. Here, media do it for free. Will anyone in government give the industry a pat “atop its collective head?”
Elections are awfully expensive, aren’t they? Now, Congressional Quarterly’s Political MoneyLine and the Center for Responsive Politics both seem to agree: The 2004 Presidential and Congressional elections cost state and local government in this country at least $3.9 billion.This year, with all the exotic new electronic gadgetry, the cost was probably just as high. Then, there’s the $2 billion or more that political campaigns raised and spent on print and electronic media.
Now, you’re correct. There are enough zeroes in $6 billion to attract attention even among Washington’s “grownups.” When you realize you’re talking about control of a $13 trillion economy, a $2 trillion-plus federal government and some 300 million people, however, it doesn’t seem like that much, though, does it?
But then consider, please, what the print and electronic media spent covering this event. At papers such as the Washington Post, you probably had virtually the entire professional staff—everyone but the Food section writers and editors, maybe—working on the elections. The Post is not like the New York Times, after all, where there’s significant in-house expertise (and interest) in other topics.
How much do you figure all the newspapers, cable networks and broadcasters together have spent, covering this past election? Half to one billion dollars? Does that sound reasonable? It does to us.
Well, despite all the added personnel, travel and other costs, none of the print or electronic media have imposed special fees or surcharges, have they? Tired of those “regulatory activity” and similar nuisance charges you’ve seen on your phone bill? Weary of that $4 a month in fees and taxes you’re paying some locality to do something with respect to your cable service?
Well, broadcasters are still charging the same amount that they did when they started back in the 1920s, aren’t they? And, isn’t that something decision-leaders and policy makers ought to take note of?
In some countries, remember, it costs the government lots to notify people that there are elections—then, to tell them the results. Here, however, much of the process just happens automatically, doesn’t it? And, basically for free.
Not only do American media provide extensive coverage of events. Broadcasters dispatch crews and ENG vehicles to various locales. They lease satellite time. Newspapers send reporters. Editors stay up late reading through the copy reporters send back in. All these journalists make a conscientious effort actually to inform the public. Imagine that. And, again, it’s all basically for free.
All this is somewhat akin to the disaster warning and information coverage which the American media provides. Just imagine what it must be like for people living in parts of the world where there’s virtually no media to warn (or inform) you of anything and, when some calamity arrives, you and your family are basically on your own.
Well, as the Katrina and other recent experiences showed, not everything in the U.S. warning and “disaster recovery” context is hunky-dory. That’s why the FCC and and the industry are trying to improve arrangements, right?
But this isn’t Nicaragua, or Chad or Paraguay, is it? We’ve got a vast, competent and reasonably efficient media infrastructure, don’t we? And, all things considered, it does a pretty good job.
What you want to watch for, now, is whether anyone in government takes time to pat the industry atop its collective head. What do you think? When was the last time you heard a politician or an FCC commissioner thank the media for their contribution to the national welfare, the “public interest”? And, that’s too bad, isn’t it?
What do behavioralists, management experts even personnel specialists call it? Positive reinforcement? Affirmative outreach? We’ll have to try harder to remember our “Dilbert.” We do think, however, that just a little commendation would be nice. Thousands of men and women working for the media tried hard this past few weeks to do a good job. Someone ought to thank them, right?
Kenneth Robinson writes the Telecommunications Policy Review, a weekly newsletter and protoblog about communications policy and all else that interests him. His long career in government included a stint as senior adviser to FCC Chairman Alfred Sikes during the first Bush Administration. He can be reached at [email protected] or JAckson 8-0960 in the area code 703.