“From the desert to the sea, to all of Southern California, here’s the news.”
That’s how TV news anchor Jerry Dunphy opened every one of his news broadcasts. He was on KNXT’s “The Big News” when I moved to California in 1968. Dunphy shared the anchor desk on KABC with Christine Lund during the period when I worked as a press liaison for County Supervisor Ed Edelman and then Mayor Tom Bradley. At the turn of the century, Dunphy was still on the air, at KCAL, working nightly until his death in 2002.
For serious-minded print reporters back in those days, Jerry Dunphy was the embodiment of everything disturbing about the news business. He was overpaid. He wasn’t a real journalist–he just read off a teleprompter. News was supposed to be serious, but Jerry and his deskmates were engaged in happy talk. He got ratings, but no respect. He got parodied: He was one model for the Ted Baxter character on the Mary Tyler Moore show.
For a long time I bought into this snarky viewpoint. Until I noticed something. Every time there was an earthquake or a wildfire, Jerry and his kind were there, on the air, handling the disconnected flow of information with smooth aplomb. And this was news that mattered to people. Sure, the Times and the other newspapers did a good job, too. They were just a day late with it. I never got to meet Jerry, but in my career I worked with many other TV news “talking heads,” among them some brilliant and passionate journalists.
I see an analogy between the days when Jerry Dunphy was mocked as an interloper into the journalistic profession, and the mindshare battles of today. Now, TV news has crawled through the fence to respectability; and critics of the news media have lumped newspapers and TV together as the Mainstream Media, or MSM. They have defined themselves as “responsible” as opposed to the alternative media that’s surged forth from the Internet and talk radio, which gets characterized as unreliable, reckless, tub-thumping, rumor-mongering, partisan. Blogs are blamed for dragging the Democratic party to the left, for slandering poor John Kerry, and for sinking the Harriet Miers nomination, to name just three of their many supposed crimes.
I’m a neutral observer in that battle. This is not a generic MSM-bashing site. I’m too fascinated with the battle to take sides. My goal is to understand it, and perhaps help others understand how to thrive in this new journalistic world.
What I do like is that things are changing. It’s a jungle out there, or at least a vibrant forest. Old orders falling, clever species adapting, new ideas emerging. The news business is unsettled. Good. The public relations business is unsettled. Good. People are getting information from unreliable sources. Yes, but in the blog-world does good information chase out the bad? It certainly seems to be so, however disputatious the process.
Let’s be clear: Most new ideas are bad ideas. But not all of them. The gates are open now. The barriers to entry have disappeared. People who never would’ve been hired in a newspaper or gotten their mugs on TV are now content providers. Not just individuals like me. As (dating myself) KSAN’s Scoop Nisker used to say, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” This is possible now. It’s been happening for nearly a decade, but it seems like it just exploded. We’re watching the Big Bang in progress.
One more thing about Jerry Dunphy: I loved that “from the desert to the sea” business. It’s what makes Southern California so alluring and special. Embrace it all: the ocean and the desert. The cool breezes, the broiling sun. Sunrise’s shadows against the mountains, sunset’s colors splashed against the sky. There is such peace in this beauty.
It’s everything in between the desert and the sea that we have to worry about…..