Dateline: St. George—A Mood Ring For News

Jan 6, 2021


Now that we have phone apps that check blood-oxygen levels and your sunshine exposure, we need one that detects your capacity to handle the day’s news. You know, a digital news media “mood ring.”

The color Green, for just the facts. Purple, for opinions. Orange, for historical context and ways to get involved. Yellow, for treacle like: “Madonna’s daughter shows off underarm hair at Mom’s birthday.”

 

The colors resemble how I described my newsroom job to Fresno State journalism students in the 1980s.  My task, I said, was to “inform, educate, entertain and irritate.” You’re providing a snapshot of history. Leave your opinions at the door.

 

Today, headlines say: “Defund the media.” Defund what? 

 

My pension is now fulfilled by the federal government as part of the bankruptcy of McClatchy Newspapers. My former employer and the nation’s second largest newspaper company left a $1 billion unfunded pension liability.

Forget about fat paychecks, I told students. Think dirty deeds reported dirt cheap. The hardest work—building trust, credibility and respect—takes years of relentless reliability.

 

The unraveling of traditional media began in the late 1980s. It was a prideful, profitable period for American newspapers and media titans like Disney and Time-Warner.

 

The San Jose Mercury was so stuffed with ads that it could ignore when subscriptions were canceled because the fat bundle on the driveway was best used as a doorstop.

 

There was the first Gulf War, the advent of CNN and Fox News, the OJ Simpson car chase and a growing Internet. Deadlines were suddenly 24/7.

 

America Online stuffed discs into our mailboxes, luring us to a squawking dial-tone connection to the World Wide Web. Only one finicky phone line served me and 100 reporters at the Fresno Bee.

 

Bottom line: The legacy media failed to quickly adapt. Jobs and public-service news gathering were gutted. And despite some continuing top-notch reporting, journalism has become a swear word.

 

Today, my mood ring would flash green and orange– give me facts, context and empowerment.  I pay for nine news subscriptions. And I support Utah Public Radio. 

 

The mood ring might help resolve two crucial questions: How much will consumers pay to be accurately informed? And how likely are they to participate in key issues shaping their lives?