‘Beat the Press’ celebrates 20 years
Rooney says Globe hanging on, Herald basically dead
Emily Rooney, who is celebrating her 20th year hosting Beat the Press on WGBH, says the biggest change she’s witnessed over that time period has been in the news-gathering business itself.
In television, the network and local news shows have narrowed their focus and range. Locally, she says, the focus increasingly is on traffic, weather, and “two-bit crime coverage. Anchors, once known by their first names, are now barely known at all.”
“Everything looks exactly the same and they’ve got these fungible anchors that all look the same,” she says on The Codcast.
In print, the business is shrinking and also taking on a sameness. “Nobody reads the newspapers and that includes people in the news business,” she says. The Boston Globe is “hanging on,” she says, and “the Boston Herald is basically dead.”
Rooney pointed out that Digital First Media, the hedge fund that owns the Boston Herald, recently announced that Herald Editor Joe Sciacca was taking over as regional editor of a large number of the chain’s papers in Massachusetts and New York. (Rooney put the number at as many as 15, but the announcement listed seven.)
While the news business may be shrinking in a lot of ways, Rooney said that doesn’t mean there is any less fodder today for Beat the Press shows. She noted Twitter and Facebook have been a focus of the show over the past year. “We’re never at a loss for something to look at,” said Rooney, who personally holds the patent on her show’s name.
On Beat the Press’s anniversary show Friday night, Rooney and her fellow media analysts Adam Reilly and Callie Crossley of WGBH, Jon Keller of WBZ News, and Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University talked about the changing news business as well as scandals, stellar reporting, and media obsessions over the years. Rooney and others said the media tend to get carried away with the salacious and the sensational.
Keller got off what may have been the best line, pushing back against the notion that the news business is overly obsessed with trivial, gossipy matters such as the death of former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith or the lipstick color of Monica Lewinsky.Keller said media obsessions have been going on forever (he mentioned coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930s), partly because they are salacious but also because they tend to speak to broader truths. He indicated media obsessions don’t bother him.
“Anna Nicole Smith. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d watch it again if they’d run it again,” he said, noting drug abuse was a big story. “You could make the case that was a significant moral lesson.”