Many questions have been raised recently about the degree to which the news that viewers consume on local television stations across the country is truly local, and truly independent.
RTDNA is, and always has been, a champion of independent local journalism. Editorial independence is an essential guiding principle for all journalists, local and national. Independence in this sense means making decisions in the best interests of the public, the audience, and the community – without being unduly influenced by outside pressures.
Much of journalism's unique value lies in its local coverage. Newsrooms around the country, in cities large and small, serve the public in ways consistent with the RTDNA Code of Ethics, and in a manner that networks and national publications can't. National journalists are essential to the process of seeking and reporting the truth; it's just not their mission to dig deeply into specific issues of concern in local communities on a consistent basis.
Local journalists live in the communities they cover. They are stakeholders in those communities, and their work reflects it, which is why RTDNA in February launched its #ThisIsJournalism campaign:
Every single day across the United States, local journalists are uncovering corruption or shining a light on problems that might otherwise go unnoticed. Often, their outstanding responsible journalism serves as a catalyst for positive change in their communities.
- WXIA-TV, Atlanta: Investigation into the Heroin crisis in Atlanta. This story is now used in schools and crisis centers to help educate.
- KHOU, Houston: Transparency. This digital, episodic investigation into Houston’s police body camera policies led to changes in how those body cameras are used in Houston.
- KARE, Minneapolis-St. Paul: The Insane Benefit: Minnesota’s Secret Sex Offenders. This investigative report revealed a legal loophole that allowed “hundreds of child sexual predators in Minnesota to slide under the radar.”
- KXAS-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth: Big Buses, Bigger Problems. This investigative report revealed that dozens of Dallas school bus drivers were running red lights and committing other traffic violations, placing children and others in danger. The report resulted in the suspension or firing of several bus drivers.
- KWCH-TV, Wichita: Badge to Badge. Investigative reporting revealed that many small-town Kansas police officers who’d been fired from one department were easily finding jobs in other, neighboring departments. The report led the state to urge communities to do better background checks on potential police department employees.
- Michigan Radio: Not Safe to Drink. This documentary broke open the Flint water crisis to intense state-wide and nation-wide scrutiny.
- KQED Radio, San Francisco: California Finally Begins Regulating Cancer-Causing Chemical Found in Drinking Water. After a local journalist discovered a carcinogenic agent in her community’s water supply, she investigated and discovered it was also present in dozens of other water supplies throughout the state. As a direct result of her reporting, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted new standards limiting the level of such chemicals and requiring water systems to conduct monthly tests to prove compliance.
- WLRN Radio, Miami: North Miami Beach Police Chief: We Made A Mistake. A local police department had been using mugshots of young black men during sniper drills. After this story aired, the practice stopped.
There are countless other examples throughout the country. Even more will be highlighted when RTDNA announces the winners of this year’s regional Edward R. Murrow Awards in late April.
Media companies manage their enterprises in a variety of ways, according to their best judgment. When that judgment conflicts with the values of viewers, listeners and readers, those audiences have effective ways of making their feelings known. RTDNA urges viewers, listeners and readers to get their information from a variety of sources so they can determine which of those sources they trust.
RTDNA respects the right of businesses to operate as they see fit, within the law and in accordance with accepted ethical values. In case of controversy, we encourage the public never to lose sight of the important work done daily by local journalists who are employed by many companies but ultimately report to the people who live in the communities they serve.
RTDNA is the world’s largest professional association devoted exclusively to advocating on behalf of broadcast and digital journalists. It works to protect the rights of broadcast and digital journalists in the courts and legislatures throughout the country, promotes ethical standards in the industry, provides members with training and education and honors outstanding work in the profession through the Edward R. Murrow Awards.