Emily Barr, former president and CEO of Graham Media Group, gave an impassioned speech at the B+C Hall of Fame as she was inducted April 14. Barr urged local broadcast to stay strong amidst its mounting challenges.
“I have never been known to be shy so tonight I want to take a moment to speak a little truth to power,” she said. “If 42 years in local broadcasting has taught me anything, it is that each of us fundamentally identifies with the communities in which we live.”
Barr noted “a palpable sense of connection that comes from knowing your physical neighbors–sharing their joy and pain, supporting one another in good times and bad. Just being there.”
She stressed how important that connection was amidst the pandemic, and said it is what local television does best. “Local television connects community,” said Barr. “By providing a record of everything from the mundane, to the unbelievable, local TV news helps stitch together communities with the thread of its own stories— binding them through triumph and tragedy, challenge and celebration.”
Barr became Graham Media Group president/CEO in 2012 and announced her retirement earlier this year. Catherine Badalemente is the new group president/CEO.
Barr described how so many people today are “left searching for information and finding comfort in conspiracy.” Social media, she said, is where they often turn, finding voices that sound like their own. “Social media scrapes our headlines, liberally mixing fact and fiction and feeding off our original reporting while giving us nothing for our efforts,” said Barr, who noted that the social platforms, unlike broadcast, are not regulated.
Barr criticized networks for shifting broadcast shows to streaming, including longtime ABC show Dancing with the Stars relocating to Disney Plus. Moreover, stations’ “ability to measure and monetize has been severely damaged and no longer appears capable of giving us an accurate reflection of who is watching.”
“We are, in many markets, the last local news source standing and that does not bode well for our collective future,” Barr added.
Barr stressed broadcast’s significant role in a democracy. “Now we are at a moment of inflection and it is essential that we work together to ensure that the free flow of information and a common frame of reference remains the underpinning of our democracy,” she said. “Because if you subscribe to the notion that all news is local–which, clearly, I do–then we must find a path forward that allows local news coverage not to just survive, but thrive.
“Quite frankly,” Barr concluded, “our future depends on it.”
NAB president and CEO Curtis LeGeyt, who attended the B+C Hall of Fame Thursday night, commented on Barr's remarks.
“Emily Barr is a fierce advocate for local broadcasting and knows firsthand from her decades of experience the need for trustworthy, reliable journalism that binds our communities together and supports a strong democracy," LeGeyt told B+C. "Her words have credibility because she has demonstrated this commitment in every role she has held in her illustrious career. I share her resolve in advocating for policies that provide broadcasters with the tools to ensure the future and viability of local journalism.”
The 30th anniversary B+C Hall of Fame black-tie dinner was held at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City and about 450 were in attendance. ■
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.