Earlier this week, even as Vermont Public Radio was (once again!) asking people to send money in support of its uniquely valuable programming, it squandered two minutes and twelve seconds of airtime on a useless bit of puffery. I’m sure Peter Welch appreciated it, but it kind of undercut the message of the fund drive.
The story, reported by Bob Kinzel, related Congressman Welch’s thoughts on the then-pending Iran nuclear treaty vote. Kinzel gave a shallow, uninsightful retelling of the background, which provided Welch a handy platform to air his views.
This is not journalism; it is stenography. It essentially served the same purpose as a press release or constituent newsletter.
The piece included two voices: Kinzel’s and Welch’s. There was no attempt to include other viewpoints. This is the simplest kind of public radio story. There are places where it’s appropriate, such as a profile piece or first-person account; in this context, it’s just a lazy way to kill a couple of minutes.
Kinzel’s been around a long time, and he does some good work. Unfortunately, he is also VPR’s go-to guy for these two-minute service pieces for members of our Congressional delegation. They follow a cookie-cutter format: Kinzel relates some background information and the Congressman or Senator provides some boilerplate sound bites.
It was only last week that Kinzel did an essentially identical piece featuring Pat Leahy talking about the Iran treaty. And back in mid-August, Kinzel did a Welch piece on the same subject. The news hook on that occasion: Welch “is taking an active role” in getting the deal through Congress.
And if you search VPR’s website for “Kinzel Leahy” or “Kinzel Welch” or “Kinzel Sanders,” you will find dozens of such stories. It’s basically a Kinzel “Mad Lib” — take an outline script and add in the issue of the day.
Let me make a couple of things clear. First, Kinzel is a good reporter who, as I said, does a lot of good work. He is capable of better than Journaistic Mad Libs.
And so is his employer. VPR has vast resources at its disposal, and a huge megaphone to reach its audience anytime it needs more. Financially, it is the envy of all other media operations in Vermont. But as I’ve said before, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. My expectations are higher for VPR than they are for, say, the Burlington Free Press or the Times Argus or WDEV. As they should be.
VPR has a huge staff compared to just about any other media outlet. Its daily “news hole” is about six minutes long. (That’s roughly two stories per day, and only on weekdays.) It should be fully capable of turning out six minutes of quality, insightful journalism per day.
It should not have to depend on these lazy, uninformative pieces of stenography.