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Rather Slams National, Local News

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather ripped traditional news organizations Saturday, saying that in a world of merged media, there is no longer incentive to do "good and valuable news."

Speaking in Minneapolis at the National Conference for Media Reform, sponsored by Free Press, Rather, according to a copy of his prepared text, referred to the criticisms of White House press secretary Scott McClellan that the media, including himself, were "complicit enablers" in the war in Iraq.

If that was true, he said, it was because of a change in the coporate culture of media ownership. (Scroll down to watch video of Rather's speech.)

Rather blamed ever-merging media companies serving the bottom line for changing the character of ownership from an individual who could stand up to political pressures and say "the buck stops here," to one where the mantra is: "The news stops...with making bucks."

The result, says Rather, who is in the midst of a legal battle with one of those major media companies--CBS--is:

"Political analysis reduced to in-studio shouting matches between partisans armed with little more than the day's talking points.

"Precious time and resources wasted on so-called human-interest stories, celebrity fluff, sensationalist trials, and gossip.

"A proliferation of 'news you can use' that amounts to thinly-disguised press releases for the latest consumer products."

Rather also slammed local news for a "slavish" adherence to happy talk on one hand and an "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality on the other.

The reason for what he saw as the decline, if not absolute fall of the traditional news empires was that "in the current model of corporate news ownership, the incentive to produce good and valuable news is simply not there."

Seeming to borrow from the speech by Peter Finch's anchor character in Network, Rather's solution was in part for his audience to throw open their collective windows and make their voices heard.

"It means that we need to be on the alert for where, when, and how our news media bows to undue government influence," he said. "And you need to let news organizations know, in no uncertain terms, that you won't stand for it... that you, as news consumers, are capable of exerting pressure of your own."

"We need to say, loud and clear, that we don't want big corporations enjoying preferred access to — or government acting as the gatekeeper for — this unique platform for independent journalism.," Rather said.