Houston Chroncile – Local-section analysis

This post will focus on the most prominent content from the online City and State section of the Houston Chronicle’s website. The timing of the analysis is completely random. All analysis stems from a saved webpage from Nov. 13th at around 5:15 pm.
The Chronicle is the monopoly daily newspaper for Houston and, combined with chron.com, reaches 2.3 million people per week.
As the sole daily newspaper for Houston, it has a great responsibility to keep Houstonians informed about local issues that affect their lives, as well as a responsibility to provide in depth analysis that newspapers are known for.
Form:
The local section design consists primarily of 3 columns – the left and middle being news content – and the right being a mix of ads, slideshows and links to sports and entertainment stories.
The ad column seems to be mostly ads. I imagine the Chronicle wishes it was all ads – it seems to be using sports and entertainment slideshows and links as filler – or maybe it’s best to keep a little Chron content mixed in so that people will still look at this column?
The left news column has featured stories and the middle column is a compilation of various blogs and comments from those blogs. Kudos to chron.com for letting readers be heard.
Substance:
At the top of the left column is the Feature story “Perry jokes about his forgetfulness at GOP debate” with a picture on top of the Republican candidates smiling and Perry smiling awkwardly and in the middle of opening his hand for a wave (suggesting the Chronicle isn’t going out of its way to make him look normal or intelligent.)
This story, which is the feature for the local section, is about a national political debate. This has relatively little to do with Houston, or even Texas politics, but is the feature story because Perry is from Texas, prominent and full of political entertainment.
Next to this feature is the Perry Presidential blog, which focuses on the presidential race – not just Perry specifically. The Texas governor is a position of infamously small power, yet his unlikely election to the presidency, and all of the other tidbits from the campaign trail, are apparently major local news. How much did George W. Bush being kind-of-elected president change things for Texas or Houston?
By focusing on national politics, even putting it in the City and State section, the Chronicle does a disservice to the many local issues that Houstonians are facing. They probably do this to save money – it’s cheaper to homogenize content by having a reporter working for Hearst do stories for many of the Hearst papers and to put similar content in various sections. If you look at Hearst employee Richard Dunham’s Linkedin, you will see that he was Washington Bureau Chief for Houston Chronicle starting in 2007, but in 2009 he also became chief for Hearst Newspapers. This is the kind of consolidation that is killing journalism by delocalizing content and overburdening journalists for higher profits, or, for many papers, to just stay afloat.
Besides consolidation of responsibilities, it is also cheaper to follow the political circus – which, to be fair, is probably more popular with many readers (who probably feel powerless to change anything in politics and so just entertain themselves with the news instead) – than investigate local issues that no one else is reporting on in depth.
As unimportant as these stories might be to Houston, they can’t compare to what is the prominent topic of the Newswatch blog, which is at the top of the middle column. Instead of watching a horror movie or driving around many places in the city, readers can get their thrills by reading about the worst the city has to offer in this blog.
The 3 stories featured on Newswatch at the time of this random sampling are:
Fort Bend woman stabbed to death
Three men stabbed outside a south Houston bar
Man shot through window of his pickup truck
It is understandable if you think WW3 has come or we are in the midst of the apocalypse, but this is actually just the Chron’s horror section.  I’m not sure how to make any use of this section, except to respond by grabbing a gun and locking the doors.
A keyword search of the Newswatch blog gives further evidence of this trend.
“Kill” gives 33 pages of results. “Help” = 23 pages.
“Charity” = 1 Page, “Murder” = 8 pages
“Rape” = 5 pages, “Marriage” = 2 pages
“If it bleeds, it leads” indeed.
Houston Chronicle has a long way to go if it ever hopes to live up to its mission statement to – never mind, it doesn’t have one. Neither does Hearst Corp.
I guess it’s hard to be a hypocrite if you don’t stand for anything but making money.

To leave on a positive note, here’s a mission statement from a site that cared enough to make one.
FAIR.org:
FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints. As an anti-censorship organization, we expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled. As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.

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