Seattle City Council, Tony Ventrella pan ‘Uberization’ of TV news

Jun 28, 2016, 7:19 AM | Updated: 11:32 am

news, ventrella, tegna...

Tony Ventrella speaks to the Seattle City Council in support of its resolution on local TV news recently. The former sportscaster ended his congressional campaign. (Seattle Channel)

(Seattle Channel)

The Seattle City Council hasn’t historically commented on every union negotiation happening in town, but that wasn’t the case at Monday’s meeting.

“At King 5 in particular, where they are involved in negotiations in present time … they are also being forced to defend the public in general and our right to locally-produced news with social value, such as essential emergency communications,” said council member Kshama Sawant. “That is because the whole television news industry is changing. Some of these changes are natural, inevitable and even desired … but some of the changes are motivated purely by the drive for greater profits by private corporations rather than for the public good.”

Related: Ventrella decides to run for congress

KING 5 is owned by Tegna, a company known recently for cutting experienced journalists and replacing them with sourced material — video and photos — provided by amateurs with cell phones. The company will pay those amateurs for the content. The practice has been panned by those in the industry, arguing that it will harm the quality of news. It’s been called the “uberization” of news.

One such person is Tony Ventrella, a former sports broadcaster who is currently running for congress against Dave Reichert. Ventrella commented at the Seattle City Council meeting before it passed a resolution on the matter.

“The move by Tenga and other broadcast companies to make news more accessible — that’s the way they’re putting it — is simply a move to save money for stockholders who frankly couldn’t care less about the streets of Seattle,” Ventrella said in front of the city council Monday.

Ventrella said that amateurs don’t hone instincts to keep opinion and news separate, or to hold those in power accountable. They don’t have the skills that journalist go to school for, and spend years developing. That is the threat posed by Tegna’s method of replacing experienced talent with “a $50 guy with a cell phone,” Ventrella said.

“The public is now misinformed (after amateurs spin stories) and in an emergency that would be a disaster,” he said. “We need people that were trained to remain in broadcasting.”

The council’s resolution, which passed 7-0, affirms the city’s “commitment to high quality locally produced broadcast news.” Sawant noted it has no legal implications, but represents the city’s opinion on the matter. That opinion, included in the resolution, is a recommendation that any public entity invested in Tegna should divest its money from the company.

Ventrella vs. Rantz

For KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz, he understands the concern Ventrella expresses, but he cannot support the conclusion.

“I understand the fear that it’s going down this road of news not being news anymore, but this really seems like posturing for labor unions currently negotiating with KING 5,” Rantz told Ventrella.

KING 5 is highlighted out in the resolution, however, no other news source in the Seattle region is mentioned. Ventrella admits he doesn’t know so much about that — he’s retired from the industry and doesn’t have a dog in the fight. He maintains that his concern is that media companies are moving in a direction to replace people with skills, experience and talent with, basically, cell phones.

“Is that news or is that entertainment?” Ventrella said. “The news business wasn’t designed, necessarily, to be entertainment.”

“Shouldn’t you then make the argument that you shouldn’t watch it,” Rantz said. “As a consumer, we have all the power in the world.”

Listen to Jason Rantz argue over the ‘uberization’ of news with David Twedell, representative for IATSE Local 600.

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Seattle City Council, Tony Ventrella pan ‘Uberization’ of TV news