During the somewhat less frantic months of the presidential campaign season—between the primaries and the nominating conventions—the Swing States Project will feature occasional profiles of people we’re calling, for lack of a better phrase, discourse leaders. These are people in the press—TV or radio hosts, newspaper columnists, people with important online presences—in battleground states who in one way or another help to lead substantive and civil political conversation.
Below, Jay Jones, the Swing State Project’s Nevada correspondent, profiles Jim Rogers, the owner of Intermountain West Communications Company.
NEVADA — Journalists—especially those who are a bit older, or who work in the print medium—have been known to bemoan the fact that most people get their news from television. What they—or rather what we, as I am one of them—find discouraging is that on air, a major political issue is often distilled into a one-minute-long story featuring a couple of brief sound bites.
Jim Rogers shares that frustration. “I really fell out of love with the 30-second sound bite,” Rogers said in a recent interview. “And I thought that television wasted a lot of people’s time by making people believe that if they listened to a 30-second sound bite about any particular subject, that made them an expert.”
The difference is that Rogers is in a position to do something about it. Rogers is the owner of Intermountain West Communications Company, which operates NBC affiliates across five western states. He purchased his first station—Las Vegas’s Channel 3—in 1979. His media empire now includes three Nevada stations (the other two are in Reno and Elko), and he’s recognized—by friend and foe alike—as a champion of public discourse here in the Silver State.
No stranger to controversy—he was threatened with expulsion from Las Vegas High School for his editorials in the school paper damning the “lousy” teachers—Rogers, at age 73, still enjoys a feisty debate. And his television stations provide the forum.
In an era when TV news consists of those 30-second (or often shorter) clips, Rogers is an anachronism. The Federal Communications Commission hasn’t required TV stations to carry specific public affairs programming since the mid-80s, yet Rogers’s Nevada stations carry a wealth of such shows.
The king of political commentary in Nevada, Jon Ralston, anchors “Face-to-Face,” a half-hour program that airs Monday through Friday statewide from its Las Vegas base. Then there’s “Nevada Newsmakers,” a similar show based in Reno, which churns out four programs a week. The weekly “To the Point” is hosted by the Las Vegas Sun’s political editor, Anjeanette Damon. All three are carried statewide.
And there’s still more. The newest public affairs program from the Rogers stable, “The Agenda,” began airing each weekday in Las Vegas earlier this year. It combines interviews and analysis of political issues with sparring between the co-hosts, liberal Hugh Jackson and conservative/libertarian Elizabeth Crum.
“We don’t agree on much, but we pick our own topics [and] we’re really given an amazing amount of creative control,” said Crum. “We’re attempting to get past the talking points from both sides that voters tend to get inundated with, especially the non-partisans because they are the crucial swing of voters and really just trying to get down to the facts.”
“Sometimes we do disagree on what the facts are, but Hugh and I do our best to bring data, good-sourced information, to the show,” she added. “We are trying to provide a public service, to help people in their decision-making process.” (CJR has previously written about the scrutiny “The Agenda” and “Face to Face” applied to one local congressional campaign.)
Crum added that Rogers never meddles. That’s something he feels is important.
“When we hired Elizabeth Crum, I told her, ‘Elizabeth, I’m a flaming liberal and I always have been. But I don’t want to do anything to ever cut off your views as a libertarian or conservative,’” he explained.
Rogers says he gives the same free rein to his other commentators.
“I have never had one discussion since Jon [Ralston] has been there [at Channel 3] about content, that he should or shouldn’t ask these questions, that he should or shouldn’t have these people on, because I think it’s very, very important that ownership not try to interfere with content at all,” he continued.
What makes this programming plethora notable is the fact that, here in Las Vegas, the trend at other local TV stations is to provide less, not more, public affairs coverage to viewers. Neither the CBS nor ABC affiliates in Las Vegas produce any public affairs broadcasts.
The television landscape is a bit fuller in Reno, Nevada’s other metropolitan area. In addition to the daily mix on Rogers’s NBC affiliate, both the CBS and ABC stations carry weekly 30-minute programs—a larger commitment than many stations around the country.