Kontos Column | An indictment of ‘local’ media

By Dan Kontos

For news junkies, there is no shortage of outlets to get your fill of the day’s events, weather, sports, and mostly endless supplies of opinion.

Yes, this is an opinion column, and the irony is not lost on me.

Sources range from television in its various forms, radio, the internet, and even the dying newspapers and magazines. Plenty of places to learn about the dysfunction in Washington DC, the Italian ambassador killed in the Congo, or even the latest coup in Burma (or “Myanmar,” if you really must.)

It’s all good stuff, but while our attention is turned to national and international happenings, who is keeping an eye on what is happening here, locally? After all, events that happen closest to home are often the most impactful.

Gathering the news is hard work, and investigating beyond the propaganda fed to us is even harder work. No, that’s correct; I used the word “propaganda” in its neutral meaning to reflect what we are constantly fed to further a particular cause. Who can we rely on to truly inform us of what events touch us more than the latest social scheduling of Harry and Meghan?

Local “news” conduits have grown here in Central Wisconsin over the past few decades. What was once the purview of only a few mainly professional press outlets, now has multiplied into a number of competing entities, all chasing the elusive revenue dollar.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the news business is first and foremost a business. I begrudge no one for that. This is how our system works, for the most part. But our system is largely predicated on the fact that profit is generated by producing a quality product: the better the quality, the more people are willing to pay for it, so long as the price is within reach. It is a balancing act that few terminally master (For those of you who just look for reasons to nit-pick, I also understand about ad revenues, so just move along…).

I routinely scan local media franchises to see what is happening, and to gauge whether their product is worthy of my hard-earned dollars. While some bits are just fun, I can’t help but wonder most times, where is the actual news? Where are the bits of information that impact my life, and how much can I really rely on them?

I’m sorry to break it to some, but regurgitating press releases without in-depth exploration or even a cursory confirmation is not news. It’s just propaganda—for better or worse.

Local sports are fun, but it’s not really news in the way that I am discussing.

The latest COVID-19 numbers without context are meaningless, and their endless repetitive unveiling ad nauseam is mind-numbing.

“Tuesdays with a Trustee” is a waste of time if they are just allowed to drone on without even being challenged—in a polite and professional fashion of course.

Even the best fish fries in central Wisconsin are virtually irrelevant, and no one enjoys a good fish fry better than me.

Furthermore, large conglomerates masquerading as local vendors, reiterating the exact same story across all of their outlets, do nothing for us. I don’t read the local “paper” to find out what is the latest regarding the Texas snowstorm, or even parking problems in Ashwaubenon. I don’t need the local news to be dominated with bits that I can pick up somewhere else. I want the local news to be just that; local.

Tell me about the latest actions by the county board, common counsel, and village board. Tell me how my public officials are making our community better, or how they are breaking our trust.

Tell me how my tax dollars are being spent to maintain or even improve local services, or how they are being wasted on arguing over pronouns and throwing stones from their oversized glasshouses.

I’m responsible (in part) for electing a lot of these people—or at least, electing their bosses. I need to know how (and what) they are doing, and I am willing to pay for quality reporting to find out.

Just a small test. Go to your favorite local news outlets. Count and compare the number of actual news items, defined as impactful informational pieces, presented in context and in-depth, and pertaining to something predominantly within Portage County (or even Central Wisconsin) that would be of little interest anywhere else. Sports, restaurant reviews, and the latest about dental office ceiling murals only count for a quarter of a point—if you really must.

There, let the best outlet win—and win your business.

The old adage of “you get what you pay for” holds a lot of truth in it. It’s fun to debate ideas and give opinions, but that should be restricted to editorials, columns, and open letters. If you really want news, I mean real news, you need to be prepared to pay for it. If you want it free and fluffy, well then, carry on.

I’m sure the latest “news” about the crushing last-minute comeback by the Polonia Piledrivers is just around the corner.

Let’s support our local news outlets, and then meet in the opinion section to talk about it. Until
then, God bless.

Dan Kontos is a paid columnist for the Metro Wire. He chooses his own topics and his opinions do not necessarily represent the staff of the Metro Wire. He lives with his family in Whiting.