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Americans Become Their Own Media

If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.

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Photo by Times Up Linz CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the mainstream, corporate media has transformed from watchdogs and information disseminators to cheerleaders, suppressors and protectors, citizens now have to take on the aforementioned traditional roles themselves.

If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.

Grant Stinchfield devoted part of his Friday Newsmax program to laying out why he believes the rapid, deleterious changes that have overcome our nation in just the last week will only serve to weaken the country. He was joined by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson, who set the stage for what the country must be aware of as we enter a period of adjustment in America. Neither man targeted the mainstream media by name, but their discussion contained an unmistakable call for citizens to be alert and vigilant. They need to do the job that, in years past, was the duty of the media.

“With only three days in the White House, Joe Biden claims he wants to ‘Build Back Better,’ yet every move he has made leads you to believe he wants to tear it down worse,” Stinchfield began, noting the Biden quickly removed both the Winston Churchill bust and military battle flags from the Oval Office. “We went from America First to America Last in a matter of three days, and the D.C. swamp is reemerging.”

Presidents have traditionally entered office experiencing a “honeymoon period,” characterized by unsustainably high approval ratings. Not so this year, as Rasmussen Reports pegs Biden’s approval at just 48%, lower than the starting point for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Many Americans, possibly most, understand that sans a flood of mail-in ballots with a lack of signature verification, the likelihood is high that Donald Trump would still be president. Many citizens also fear what will be the immediate dismantling of the Trump policies that led to unprecedented peace and prosperity across the nation.

“There will be a lot of things that will not be able to be torn apart, and we need to concentrate on those,” Carson noted. “I hope people are paying very close attention, because you see two very distinct philosophies on how things should be run.”

The mainstream media, once a protector of the individual, has now become a protector of the ruling class. While not calling out the liberal media specifically, Carson has for years called out the true duty of government, as laid out in the Constitution.

“When this country was created, it was created as a place where there would be individual freedoms, where you could live your life the way you wanted, believe what you wanted. You had religious freedom as long as your rights didn’t impinge on the next person’s rights. But then there’s always been a group that has felt that the government should be in charge, that true utopia is a place where you give the government full power from cradle to grave, and they take care of you.” In just the past few days, American watchdogs and a sliver of the national news media has called out this overarching theme enveloping the new administration’s executive orders and policy proposals.

“I implore the American people – pay attention to what’s going on,” Carson said. “Remember what’s happened over the last four years, how the economy just skyrocketed because of the policies – removing all of those regulations, letting people spend their own money and determine their own way. Those are the things that had a very, very rapid ameliorating effect on America.”

Carson is right to put the onus on citizens to track the changing effects over the next few years, knowing much of the American media will attempt to deflect, deceive and obscure the truth from viewers.  

Stinchfield played a clip of President Biden, after months of blaming his predecessor for everything related to COVID-19, saying that “there is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” A far different tune than he and his party of resistance sang for the past year, and a clear example of what Stinchfield and Carson want viewers to be on the alert for.

“The way that the previous administration was able to get business, and industry and science and universities to all work together, to come up with a vaccine in record-breaking time. No one thought it could be done, and yet it was done because of the push there to try and save lives.” 

Carson did not mention the press as he summed up, however his all-encompassing point cannot be understated.

“China is not going to destroy us. Russia is not going to destroy us. Iran is not going to destroy us. North Korea is not going to destroy us. What will destroy us is us, if we continue to listen to the purveyors of hatred.”  

Americans can no longer trust the mainstream press to present truthful reality. They must now take that burden upon themselves.

BNM Writers

Media Professionals Deserve Safer Streets

“Whether one wishes to admit it or not there are similarities, parallels even, in news reporting and police work.”

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They stand out pretty much wherever they are; they draw attention all by themselves.

The journalist covering the story, casting an aura all their own; a news crew no matter how large or small often becomes the focus of as much interest by passersby and neighborhood kids as the police crime scene tape or smoldering building they stand in front of.

Picture the enthusiastic sports fan leaving the stadium and spying the camera, the radio mic flag or the live truck and suddenly it’s like kids spotting the ice cream truck coming down the street. That said, what is becoming more and more common are those attracted to the scene not because of the news presence or the story but because of an opportunity, and not the righteous kind. Unfortunately and more often these days making for a story all by itself.

Released this month, reporting from the latest RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey showing 1 in 5 television news directors describing attacks on their newsroom employees.

One in five, that is a lot.

In addition, one might think it’s only happening at large stations in the big markets or only at the most extreme events or perhaps while covering incidents like protests and demonstrations that got out of control. Nope. Actually, it’s rather evenly spread out across market and station size and happening whether there is a 3-person crew or a 1-person MMJ (Multimedia Journalist) on the story.

The type of assaults and/or attacks are equally diverse. There are random interruptions by the opportunists, jumping in and out of live shots or shouting profanities. Most reporters and photographers will say those are an almost everyday occurrence and just part of the job.

Nevertheless, we have all seen the YouTube and other social media postings where it goes further, sometimes much further. Spit upon, slapped and even punched, news cars and equipment damaged or stolen.

What drives it? Is it a rising dislike and distrust of the media?

Doubtful, only because that has always been there in some form, it is nothing new. However, in decades and generations past we were not regularly attacking our reporters. 

More likely, it’s instance and opportunity, much like any crime or any offense. Sometimes the crew can fend it off but with eyes and minds on the job at hand it’s next to impossible to prevent.

If we wonder why it’s happening more ask yourself what life was like when field producers had a common presence.

So, is this supposed to be the norm for the journalist on the street? A cop on the street maybe, but the reporter? Granted, they are both on those types of scenes and in similar areas but for differing intents and purposes.

I am not saying it is the same but whether one wishes to admit it or not there are similarities, parallels even, in news reporting and police work.

There are lines of demarcation certainly, but the interactions with people and the scenarios are often the same. Knowing the streets does not always mean beating the streets; both cop and reporter have been on the wrong end of that idea.

Cops worry about going through the wrong door, pulling over the wrong car. And while not yet at that level, journalists need to measure the story they are covering, their resources and the environment.

Hopefully news people out there have a heightened sense of danger or the awareness that the potential exists for bad actors with bad intentions. That does not mean incidents can be easily be prevented or stopped in their tracks, but efforts should be made to try.

I think in terms of the first year MMJ in a small market, sent on a breaking news shooting or accident scene.

“It’s 45 minutes before the 11pm newscast…get out there and go live for the top of the show”.

There is no News Director at the station at that time; there might not even be an Executive Producer. The reporter rushes to get there, there’s no real time to do anything else but set up and maybe ask somebody a question or two. Assessing the scene and its safety concerns is not often on the checklist.

Who is thinking safety and security at that time? Who is making the decision? Who has not seen the recent video of the reporter hit by a car during a live shot?

It was professionally handled by that journalist yet who back at that station was looking out for her that day? Who set the plan in motion? While off the path a bit of the primary issue, one still could spend the better part of the day looking at footage or reading accounts of journalists at scenes in similar predicaments or attacked, assaulted and worse.

No, this is not just about MMJ’s…it can be a team or a trio with a live truck, and back to the survey, not everyone cited was working alone or at a volatile scene.

Maybe think about it in terms of the way news covers bad weather: What does a viewer or a listener really thinking about storm coverage? “Why is that reporter standing in a hurricane?” What is the reporter, the photographer, the field producer, or the live truck operator thinking about storm coverage? “Why am I standing in a hurricane?”

By the way, I came to this business late so I tend to ask questions that often get me looks of frustration and annoyance by those who did not. A beloved former coworker once quoted me back to me following a period of long form storm coverage.

WE KNOW IT’S A HURRICANE…CAN’T THEY BE SOMEWHERE SAFE AND SHOW YOU THE HURRICANE? THEY CAN TELL YOU ABOUT AND DESCRIBE THE HURRICANE…NOBODY NEEDS TO BE HIT BY A FLYING STOP SIGN TO BRING YOU GOOD COVERAGE…THEY CAN DO THAT …THEY CAN BRING YOU THAT…SAFELY…THEY’RE REPORTERS.

So, what can be done about it all to keep those out there a bit safer? Consider analysis and preparation when putting staff in various situations. It is done for storm coverage.

It begins before the next story, playing out scenarios in the conference room with staff members, measuring priorities in coverage and making sure the security philosophy penetrates. You’re in a bad situation; let us plan a way to get out of it.Truthfully, it’s not something I’ve heard often discussed at length in planning and editorial meetings. True, storms may be more predictable but so is the unknown. You know it is out there.

Luckily there are those willing to advocate for themselves; I worked with a reporter who abruptly ended a live shot right on the air, before anyone had to chance to say anything. “Guys this isn’t safe, I’m wrapping it up…back to you.” Excellent! It’s not unheard of, it’s certainly prudent and hopefully, we have all seen reporters, photographers and producers make that kind of call.

This is not about bad management, or uncaring or unthinking bosses. They are out there, sure but nobody wants their people hurt or put in dangerous situations. It is however, about asking the right questions at the right time. Where are we sending our people? What is the neighborhood like, the mood on the streets? More importantly, what are we losing or giving away by pulling back from the center of the most vulnerable areas?

When in doubt, send an extra body to the scene. ANY body. If managers want the story, managers need to make it safer to cover. A sports anchor and I would go hit the streets to parallel and back up crews on demonstrations and protests. Generally, not for physical presence or as a deterrent but instead to be the extra set of eyes on a scene and it is often a game changer.

I have seen news directors go out there, sales people and of course interns. Yes, interns have eyes. Interns are often heroes. Stop sending them out for Chick-fil-A and Starbucks runs!

Getting the story means keeping the staff safe. Just as the cop cannot help anyone if they crash the patrol car running code to a hot call or a fellow officer in trouble, the reporter cannot tell the story if they’re sidelined by an attack or a disruption that might have been avoided by having a plan or the right number of people there. No matter what happens out there, the MMJ or one-man band reporter is not likely to go away nor should they. Radio, digital and print are usually alone, they are certainly harder to spot in a crowd but generally, they are solo.

Moreover, who can say there aren’t smarter ways for all platforms to do the job with a little more safety in mind? 

It’s certainly better than showing up on YouTube.

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BNM Writers

An Unorthodox Journey Led Jeff Katz to Radio

Katz landed his first radio job in sales at WFPG, a station in Atlantic City, and got his start in radio due to the maudlin fact people die.

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If you want to capture Jeff Katz’s attention, clonk him over the head with a folding chair or put him in a bone-crunching bear hug. I guarantee you he’ll respond.

“Every Saturday, it was me, my dad, and pro wrestling,” Katz said. “Most of my job was to hold what we called ‘rabbit ears’ for better reception.

Katz said his favorite wrestlers included Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino. 

“Bruno had a bear hug. He was just one of the strongest guys in the world. Sammartino was as wide as he was tall, and people loved him. “He was the King of the WWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation,” Katz said. 

Whether pro-wrestling is real or not, Katz will tell you everyone involved was sworn to secrecy, but not so today. “It was presented as a sport, not an event. It was a competition governed by the state athletic commission.” The states wanted their taste of the revenue. 

The ten-year-old Katz was self-described as dorky and nerdy-what a catch. 

“I loved to do a lot of writing, had that transistor radio glued to my ear,” Katz said. “I was the guy who always admired radio people. Not just the on-air guys but the news people behind the scenes. People that told stories that captured your attention.”

Katz tried to learn from everybody, even if they were 821.2 miles away. “One of my first jobs was in Atlantic City. After work, I’d go by the shore with my radio, and I was able to pick up The Loop in Chicago.”

He said Steve Dahl had a big impact on his developing his radio self. Katz admired other radio people too. But he said Dahl took chances nobody else did. “He had feuds with his neighbors and talked about it on the air. Dahl would plant giant trees to upset and get back at them. He also had his being late to work sponsored by a paying advertiser.”

A quality Katz saw in Dahl was honesty. “Nothing was off-limits for him. He said he lived in an affluent area with doctors and lawyers. Even though he was ‘only’ on the radio, he made as much cash as they did.”

Katz was born and raised in Philadelphia. “I still care for the city,” he said. “Very much a blue-collar, working-class city. Most of the folks that work there had to take showers when they came home.” What Katz means is in whatever industry they made their living, they were sure to get sweaty and dirty. 

Early on, Katz said he was sure he was destined to become a ‘practitioner of the dark arts’ or a lawyer. The former probably is a more appropriate description of the job. However, that plan was derailed when his father had a heart attack.

“He always had an impeccable sense of timing,” Katz jokes about his father. Instead of going to law school, Katz became a police officer in public housing in Philadelphia. 

Most of the folks that lived there were kind, and others, not so much. “It depended on who you were talking to,” Katz said. “What you found was there were a lot of grandmothers who were terrified of what was going on outside their doors. They were almost like prisoners. Then you had a collection of young punks with no respect for anybody, including their moms and grandmas.”

Katz said you routinely dealt with professional criminals who had a unique perspective. “They’d tell me they knew they were going to get busted for this and that once in a while. But they still got away with 19 of the 20 they committed. They kind of wrote off the bust as a price of doing business.”

Working with that kind of stress and adversity taught Katz a great deal. “I have a good bullshit detector, and I’m able to tell who is running a game on me,” he said. “It’s been 25 years since I’ve worn the uniform, but I still have friendships with a lot of the people I worked with.” Those relationships have given Katz impetus to help those who are still on the force. “I developed such an appreciation for the guys and gals who protect us daily; I felt it was my calling to give something back to them.”

Katz’s way of giving back manifests in his work with peer counseling among officers. He volunteers his services and offers assistance through the police academy. 

Here comes the radio career. He grew up listening to Joey Reynolds of WFIL and WIBG in Philadelphia. 

Katz said Reynolds was doing ‘talk radio’ long before people knew what it was. The longtime radio personality had one of the classic radio DJ voices but talked a lot, complaining about things in the world. Reynolds seemed to resent the fact that he was obligated to play music.

“He’d talk about how he’d get into trouble if he didn’t play records,” Katz said.

“He’d say, ‘I hate it as much as you do.’ I remember he was doing a personal appearance at an appliance store. I saw him standing near the washers and dryers, and he was wearing an incredible black satin WFIL station jacket. Man, I wanted one of those.”

Katz said Reynolds was hysterically funny on the air and always worked on the edge; his toes were always on the line. “In many ways, he was the precursor to Howard Stern,” Katz said. “Years later, we were on a panel together, and I told the audience Reynolds was one of the reasons I got into radio.”

Reynolds got up from his chair and came over to him, faux tears in his eyes, and Reynolds apologized  for being a reason Katz decided to go into radio.

Katz landed his first radio job in sales at WFPG, an easy-listening station in Atlantic City. Katz got his start in radio partially because of the maudlin fact people die.

“In the sales department, we had a one-sheet that touted us as the number one music used in funeral homes.”

A lively endorsement for any radio station. 

“I did that for a bit; then there was an opening on air, the graveyard shift. I went to our sales manager and mentioned how I’d love to be on the air. He asked me to follow him to the ‘big board,’ which revealed I had sold nothing in January and zilch in February. In short, he felt he had nothing to lose in letting me go.” 

He worked from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., and it was phenomenal. “I felt I’d won the lottery,” Katz said. “It was six days a week, and I got to speak on air probably once an hour. I’d do the ‘tide reports’ at the fishing pier.”

Isn’t that how Cronkite started?

While Katz got his on-air start via dead people, he said radio folks entered their career in a variety of ways. “I think a lot of people just fell into it, kind of like me,” He said. “Others came from music backgrounds, some from the legal world.”

He’s been informing and entertaining listeners in Virginia for ten years. Katz has found a sense of duty and humility as he grew older, but it wasn’t always that way. 

“I’ll admit that at one point, there was no bigger Jeff Katz fan than Jeff Katz,” he said. “That’s not me anymore. There are people I’ve known and still know whose ego makes it very difficult to get both in and out of a room.” He says family grounds him these days, as much as his need to give back.

“My daughter has special needs, and I’ve learned so much from her. She’s a reminder of what is and isn’t all that important,” Katz explained.  

He said the Katz you get at the radio station is the same guy you get at home, perhaps just a bit louder. “My wife Heidi will jump on me sometimes, telling me I talk for three hours a day on the air and sit in a corner at a party. She’d say, ‘You’re as quiet as the couch you’re sitting on.”

Heidi’s grandfather was a postman, riding a horse to make his rounds. When Katz told him he was on the radio every day, the man asked, ‘What else do you do?’ The innuendo being; you couldn’t make a living by doing something so silly.

Well, one man’s career is another man’s horses–t. 

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BNM Writers

Chad Benson Is Changing The Conversation

Benson hosts his morning show on KTAR, and later, he has the nationally syndicated “The Chad Benson Show” on Radio America from 2-6 p.m. on weekdays.

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He’s not Joe Exotic, but he’s kind of a lizard king. He’s not quite as festooned as Pete Davidson of SNL, but he’s on his way. 

“I love to get ink,” says Chad Benson. With tattoos, he says you’re either in for a penny or in for a pound. “They’re addicting,” he says. “I like to wear my art on the outside.”

He gets his love of ink honestly, as his father had tattoos, and many of his friends have them as well. “If I wanted a new tattoo, friends told me to put the idea in a figurative drawer for a couple of months. If I still wanted it two months later, then I should get it.”

Benson’s left arm tells an entire story. His next tattoo will be an indelible part of him soon.

“I’m getting one of those old-school microphones,” Benson said. “Like the one, David Letterman had on his desk.”

Oh, and the lizard thing.

“If anybody listens to my show, they know I love lizards. I always have.”

If he gets a tattoo of a lizard, he’ll be the happiest guy in the world. His kids love the lizards too. “Some lizards are tough to get and expensive,” Benson explained.

Benson, his lizards, and tattoos are very busy. He hosts his show on KTAR in Phoenix in the afternoon, and starts each morning hosting the nationally syndicated “The Chad Benson Show” on Radio America from 9a-12p PT.

When he was young, he was also a pretty talented jock, playing some professional soccer in Europe. Benson was signed by the Bristol Rovers, the Falkirk Scotland, and the Portsmouth Football Club.

“It certainly was fun,” Benson said. “I’m pretty certain I went further in soccer because of my drive rather than talent.” He said there weren’t as many Americans in the game when he played; it was a different scene.

After getting hurt a couple of times, he asked himself what career could he go into where he could still wear shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and not tear up his knee. It came down to a choice between beach-bum and radio.

“I came into talk radio in a different way,” Benson explained. “I never wanted to be the ‘next’ Rush Limbaugh; I just wanted to be me. They say you’re the ‘next’ so-and-so just because you’re younger. You’re not really doing anything much different.”

On his shows and in life, Benson said he likes to stay grounded. “I grew up in Los Angeles, and most of my friends are progressives,” he said. “We don’t base our friendships on politics. We just talk. I look around, and we all live in this insane world.” 

Benson said a lot of folks just want to argue over the dumbest things, but all they really want to do is argue. “I’ve got news for you; you’re not always going to get everything we want.”

There’s too much-misinformed emotion in the world, he says. “You can’t start a conversation by calling the other person a piece of shit. I’m a fact-based guy, and I’ll look at the other side.” 

In that manner speaking, Benson’s neighborhood isn’t very crowded.

“I like to say we’re in the ‘exhausted majority,” Benson said. “It’s funny when people say you don’t care about something if you don’t pick a side. Some say you’re wearing a mask to stop a virus, or you wear one because you hate Trump. It’s insane.”

After a bit of prodding, I asked Benson if he thought most News/Talkers believed in most of the stuff they peddle or if it was part of their job. 

“In general, I would say a majority of them are full of it, and they know it,” Benson said. “The scary question is, does the audience know it? I’m friends with several ‘talkers,’ and they’re not over the top in real life. They understand it’s a job, and they have to sell tickets.” He said it goes the other way. Some hosts act like they’re all progressive, but he knows them better.

On-air or off, Benson has some concerns about who we are collective. 

“Yes, we are pretty stupid on the whole,” he said. “We’re no longer coming at things in an honest conversation. We have to win the discussion or argument. It’s about beating the other side, not being right. Most would rather win on something small then you’d have something over others. All they care about is the ‘win’ and did I beat the other side.” 

Benson reminded me that even gladiators didn’t kill other gladiators–it was bad for business. He said part of the argumentative equation is we don’t hold people accountable any longer. 

“People just move on from a situation,” he said. “All that matters is how loud you are. When Radio America syndicated me, they said it was important to change the conversation.” Benson said his show isn’t about being a one-trick pony. Instead, he shoots for a mix, say a goal of 75% politics, and 25% of what everybody else is talking about. 

“We talk about the Johnny Depp trial, Roe vs. Wade. I have a super-young audience, and it really doesn’t skew hard right or left. I have a lot of independent listeners, so we don’t want to pigeonhole our content.”

When he’s not talking about Depp’s wife defecating in their marital bed or the Supreme Court leaks, Benson says he likes spending time with his family. But don’t invite him to a baseball game; it’s not going to happen.

“Baseball is so boring. Pitching changes, what shift is on. Who cares?”

Other than me and Alexander Doubleday, I can’t say.

Benson worked as a producer for Robert W. Morgan in the latter years of the legends’ career. Morgan was a legendary broadcaster who paved the way for Don Imus and virtually everyone else that followed. 

“Imus even talked like Robert,” Benson said. “The last few years at KRTH with Robert W. weren’t always easy. He was a tough SOB. He wouldn’t last a day in today’s era of ‘wokeness’ or with any human resources department.”

Regardless, Benson said Morgan was brilliant. “He pushed us hard to prepare well for the show. There were three of us producers who watched local television for three hours every night to find things to address. After that, we scoured VHS tapes for a couple of hours and pulled things off for his use on the show.” The cuts would often consist of something stupid the mayor said, and they’d gauge the audience’s reaction. 

“If the audience reacted well, we’d use it a couple of times an hour.”

I’d read a very salient message on one of Benson’s websites. He said we can still purchase Mein Kampf in bookstores, but not some Dr. Seuss selections. 

“That’s the kind of weird world we live in,” Benson said. “This world of ‘wokeness.’ Part of the problem is we’ve allowed the extremes to dominate.”

He likened the state of things to a carnival ride. “You know those big swinging rides that go back and forth like a pendulum? Well, sometimes the sweet spot is right in the middle. We never seem to get that.”

Is he getting tired of the grind of two shows in a day? Hell no.

“I’m 51; I have an 11-year-old and a three-year-old,” Benson begins. “I drive an hour to the station and do some pre-production. After that, I do a show from 6-9. When I’m finished with that, I start prepping for my afternoon show.”

He says he still has time to watch Viking-themed shows on television, play with his lizards and get some new ink now and again.  

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