Last week, WEEK 25 anchorman and president of the Peoria chapter Garry Moore spoke at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists’ (AFTRA) national convention in Seattle. I can’t say how Moore did in comparison to other speakers, but he brought the crowd to their feet twice during his five-minute speech.
“The truth is that now, more than ever, our ethics demand that we speak up for quality local journalists,” Moore said. “We are guardians of democracy, and we owe it to our communities to speak up when local journalism is threatened.”
I wanted to bring Moore’s speech front and center for two reasons, but before I do, I thought I should recap the situation for those who are just now hearing about this. This February, the Peoria AFTRA contract expired with the New York-based Granite Broadcasting. Reporters, anchors, producers and photojournalists with WEEK and WHOI continued working without a contract as talks continued, though language in the new contract would apparently allow Granite to outsource WEEK and WHOI’s news to Fort Wayne, Indiana. The local AFTRA chapter rejected the latest contract offer, Eric Shangraw left the whole mess, and in June, AFTRA delivered a petition containing more than 2,700 signatures to DeSantis.
Now that we’re caught up to speed, here’s why the conflict between AFTRA and Granite is important. For one, I expect to graduate in December with a degree in journalism. As I wrote to WEEK and WHOI general manager Mark DeSantis earlier this spring (and received a response that looked similar to this one), it worried me that this could mean I might not have anywhere to get an internship or a job once I graduate. I’ve since decided that I want to attend grad school. Still, I have plenty of friends who graduated with degrees in journalism who probably wouldn’t be able to work for WEEK or WHOI if their newscasts are outsourced to Fort Wayne.
Second, it’s not like the news scene is that diverse around here, anyway. WEEK and WHOI consolidated in March of 2009, which is why you’ve seen anchors and reporters cross between shows. We have the Peoria Journal Star, but even they have been decreasing in numbers. Terry Bibo, the person who inadvertently assured me that my venture into the communications realm was a good choice, accepted a voluntary buyout in March. Some Peoria bloggers exist, but they just don’t seem to garner the same kind of pull traditional media outlets do. Radio in Peoria doesn’t seem to be making any waves one way or the other, so it’s hard for me to say how they’re doing.
So what does this AFTRA business mean for Peoria? Less diversity in news coverage, which leads to less accountability of public officials and less awareness about the community. With the WEEK/WHOI merger, you’re seeing some of the same stories on two different shows. Having the news filmed in Fort Wayne for broadcast in Peoria is ridiculous. Imagine watching one of the big three network news broadcasts in the evening, and Brian Williams has suddenly been replaced with a Swiss anchor. Somebody in Switzerland probably isn’t the greatest authority to speak on American headlines, just as somebody in Fort Wayne probably isn’t the best authority to speak about Peoria. Peoria news is best delivered by people who know Peoria.
In a future post, I’d be interested in looking at solutions that could allow news to get back on track.
Until then, I think it’s time we show our support. Like the Peoria AFTRA page on Facebook. Tweet if you want to #savelocalnews. Write a note to or call Garry Moore. Email or call Mark DeSantis yourself.
It’s time to save local journalism.