Get Out of Town, Local News Crews!!!

A few weeks ago, Cade forwarded an email from an anonymous city employee who was upset after seeing a local news story regarding our wonderful, supposedly fiscal conservative mayor. The story in question was a puff piece about the Christmas lights at Falls Park, and how the final cost was only just over thirty grand.
The writer found it hilarious that the so-called reporters did no fact-checking. In his estimates, the final bill for the two year project was “at least six digits”, and that “just having the electricians at the park for the better part of the summer blows that 30k out of the water!” Furthermore, the nitpicky mayor was reportedly a fixture during the construction, constantly ordering people to “add more lights, move deer, put bows on that, as he’s creaming in his pants.”
I meant to follow up on these allegations, but after weeks of hammering one of our local stations, I felt it was right to give it a rest for at least a week or two. After a series of Argus Leader articles outlining city spending running wild, I thought it was time to reveal this story, and spend a few moments whining about our useless television news teams.
In case you haven’t heard the story, our city, under the Mayor’s direction, spent over three million dollars more than was allocated in the year’s budget. The official story is that Mayor Munson signed agreements to complete the Phillips to the Fall project and a railroad underpass at Pasley Park. When the City Council later discovered these agreements, they passed motions to approve these allocations to “honor the commitments”.
Simply put, Munson’s actions were illegal; our city charter, the local equivalent of the state’s constitution, bans any official from spending or committing to spend money beyond the level appropriated annually by the City Council. If he wasn’t considered such a nice guy, there would probably be a real investigation that could lead to his ouster. But that obviously won’t happen.
My problem today isn’t with the Mayor. Trust me, that will come another day. My beef is with our local television news crews. They simply do not report news. They never investigate; they never fact check. They treat unscientific web polls as if they’re gospel. They’re an unpaid P.R. firm for the local Chamber of Commerce. I would say the last time I ever saw any real news reporting on any of the three stations was when Bill Janklow’s campaign manager walked into a live shot and yanked the microphone from Downtown Vernon Brown. That was over ten years ago.
What do they call news these days? Weather, safety tips, weather, police press conferences, weather, Skyforce/Storm/Vikings/Twins scores, weather, Si Tonka, weather. My favorite is the standard shocking revelation that a small town drug bust is only blocks from a school. In most South Dakota communities, how could this not be the case?
My earlier comment about running P.R. for the city is what bothers me the most. They simply accept the official city statements regarding any issue. They don’t raise objections, or put together their own investigation, when the police refuse to comment about any issue…and that extends outside of our city. One reliable source at a station informed me that news crews were under no obligation to stay over a mile away from the Janklow crash site. Sure, they had to give the police and EMT’s room to do their job, but they also had a story that needed coverage. Rumors of a third passenger, alcohol, loose-lipped EMT’s and a mysterious tossed briefcase could have been immediately answered. Instead, they have become fodder for an ever-growing number of conspiracy theorists.
Munson has been the biggest beneficiary of this televised oral sex. From day one, they’ve treated him like a beloved elder statesman; never tossing him anything harder than a lobbed softball. Anything to do with Phillips to the Falls has been treated like Department of Tourism training seminars, even though the end result is a two-block, single-lane entrance to a parking lot.
The various problems with our infrastructure, from the upcoming water shortage to flooding and sewer damage, rarely varies from the official statements…except for the occasional footage of Clems hauling water-damaged belongings out of their basement. The opening of the Falls Park restaurant was a top story on all three channels, but nobody was given the opportunity to voice their disappointment that instead of a cool little cafĂ© we got Arena-quality hot dogs and pizza.
And then there’s the whole Events Center situation. There’s never a negative word uttered concerning the need or location of this building. Members of the task force have never been asked a tough question by a television reporter. Apperances on KELO’s First Monday and KSFY’s awful Mitch Krebs talk show by task force members and other city officials are unchallenged by opponents. Whether you’re in favor of this plan or not, when you’re talking about a hundred million dollars you must have room for a real debate.
Just like newspapers and magazines, local television news has an obligation to act as watchdogs, to ensure that our government doesn’t run amuck. They’re supposed to question authority; they have to act as unbiased outlaws endlessly searching for the truth. That’s not happening in this city. Sadly, that’s rapidly becoming the norm all across the country. In many cities, a good percentage of the local news is produced by the head station in a completely different city. Hell, they’ve even been caught using pre-packaged news compiled by the government. Hmm, knowing how Munson loves to meddle, maybe he’s writing the local scripts. Nah, he’s not that clever.

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