“You can make inroads in the machine,” Robyne Robinson says. Though she loves her job as Fox 9 News co-anchor, she has no illusions about the corporate news game. The news media have been “hijacked,” and news departments are “financial drains” on broadcast networks, tolerated because “federal law requires some sort of public communication.”
After growing up in Chicago, Robinson worked in Indiana, Texas and Maryland before coming to the Twin Cities in 1990. The award-winning journalist believes in the necessity of citizen involvement with the media and in the importance of journalists’ commitment to their community. Her own community involvement focuses on the arts, and includes work with numerous Minnesota arts organizations. She spoke with a few dozen people at the TC Media Alliance “Lunch with a journalist” series on April 23. In here own words:
On community involvement
I grew up with activist parents. My mother was a member of the Young Democrats when she met my father, and she got him to join. He became a sixth ward alderman in Chicago, which was the most powerful black ward in Chicago.
I grew up with parents who were in their 20s and 30s in the 60s. … If you have something, anything more than somebody else, you have to give back. I really feel you can’t come and do this job unless you are part of the city.
Priorities for news coverage
The priorities are pheasant season, turkey season, Twins opening day, and getting to the cabin. The arts get lost in the process.
As the world turns with conglomerates owning television stations and single individuals dictating what they want their news coverage to be, a la Hearst, you will see less and less. What you will see is dwarf tossings and cats stuck in tress, because that gets a lower denominator of public attention.
Loss of media credibility
It’s an old story.
We are fortunate as an owned and operated station of Fox that they recognize that our market is more literate and doesn’t necessarily follow the same formulas, so we have this much [showing an inch] leeway with what we can do.
Now we have a more educated society and that makes people question more.
Everything that comes thru the media is somebody’s agenda.
We have come to a point in our community where it’s no longer brown, yellow, black, white. It is green and it is binary.
[The owners] care if it affects revenue. So if you turn off or walk away from a sponsor, you get their attention more.
The future of news
Now the prevalence of technology is so great that everybody has a say. Everybody’s surfing. The readership is down on all newspapers. They are having a hard time keeping staff.
Paul Douglas is a perfect example of what is happening nationwide. CBS is having really hard times. They had to cut in every city
Eventually there will be roving reporters uploading a story from where they are – Al Jazeera is doing it now. CNN is starting to do it with I-news.
Getting the stories
We [at Fox 9 News] ask people to send a video. I don’t think they understand that we mean more than just saying send video of a tornado. We need them. We are cutting staff, we are hiring kids out of college but they are not getting trained.
The good part is – I can’t tell you how many stories I take from TCMA [TC Daily Planet/Media Alliance]. I’ll read it. If it’s something that has legs and I can pitch it and re-pitch it and re-pitch it again … to reporters who can talk to managers.
I teally do count on the people who email me constantly. It’s not us sitting around thinking who we can screw today or just knuckling under to FOX.
Advice to media activists
What I constantly preach is SUBVERSION. It’s the art of communication and the act of subversion.
I love my parents. They taught me: “You have to know the man and understand him and work around him.”
You have to understand the stations. You have to know the people you send emails to.
Go online. All the stations have email addresses for their reporters. Get to know these people. They are part of your community.
At some point, you will become a resource. Reporters need the people in the community to find out what’s going on.
How it all comes together
What we get from Fox network, we incorporate with our CNN feeds and what our reporters go out and cover in the community. We go out and try to get the story that everyone else is going to get. We don’t get the fox slant on a story, it’s more the individual reporter’s viewpoint.
We do carry what Fox feeds us, so we are going to have a slant. Plus CNN’s slant. Plus our own slant.
Our reporters try very hard to have a fair balance. But as individuals, there’s always going to be everybody’s slight take on what that story is.
We love what we do and we want people to trust us and to come to us and say, “here’s our reality.” You have to invite them out – to a church, to an organization, to a program
There are people I work with who are very passionate, and I respect them for getting gout and doing the same things I do
It’s not going to happen every night. It takes persistence to keep people accountable.
We are always trying to break a story or find an angle that no one else has that gives us the advantage. It has got to be something that is so WOW to redirect our whole show to bring this to the forefront. Unless it’s really amazing, it’s bes t to come with a story that has legs, that you can come again and again and again until they hear it.
Make the story relevant, give context, give me an in.
It’s got to have legs – some thing I can plan at least three days out.
Don’t get turned off if they say no to you ten times. I had 247 rejection letters before I got my first job. I don’t take no for an answer.
Corporate control and subversion
We allowed individuals to hijack our communication. We are part of a system that is owned by two percent of the country.
The only thing we can do as individuals and be responsible is subversion. It’s subversion every day when an individual goes into this corporation and offers an alternative viewpoint.
You may not like me. You may think I’m a tool of the white man. But I keep my foot wedged in the door, so you can walk past me and tell that story. Every generation can go farther.
I care enough about this community to try to speak up when I see it is obviously flawed. All I can ask is that you respect what I do and what others do on a daily basis and work with me. It’s not going to be perfect on a given day, and it’s not going to change overall. But you can make inroads in the machine.