Here’s Johnny! TV news blues
These thoughts are penned after seeing a young lady shooting what was almost certainly “weather video” for a local television news station. She did so on Main Street, perhaps because Woodford County was one of several that called off school Monday. All there was to see was a wet street, but I’m glad I saw her taking pictures of it, because I needed a column idea.
I do not watch local television news. Even when I was in local television news, I rarely watched local television news. Having been employed in a sausage factory disguised as a television news operation, I have little desire to eat such sausage.
When I want to know what is going on across the region, state, nation or world, as I do most every day, I read newspapers or listen to public radio. Occasionally, I tune in to a few minutes of a network television news broadcast.
During most of my anchoring/reporting days in TV news, I felt all too often to be the proverbial fish out of water. The oxygen, in my case, was a good story or two, and I had to hold my breath for long periods without them.
At one station where I worked, we relied so heavily on the results of consultants’ focus groups that some of us thought our slogan should not be “Coverage you can count on,” but rather, “Consultants you can count on.”
Our management’s near-religious devotion to such teachings led to coverage of almost nothing but weather/crimes/crashes/fires. I routinely went months without being allowed to work on a story idea I’d pitched during the morning meeting.
That led to my answer to folks wondering what it was like to work in the glamorous world of television news. I’d explain, “Well, we go into the morning meeting, pitch a few stories, then are assigned something else.”
We devoted almost no resources to a particularly important gubernatorial contest (though aren’t they all important?), congressional races, or City Hall (unless there was a scandal). Goings-on in Frankfort that affected the health, education and pocketbooks of our viewers? Fuggadebout it.
More than once, I was sent outside on bitterly cold nights to do live shots warning people that it was dangerous to go outside on bitterly cold nights. Once, I couldn’t resist adding the disclaimer, “Unless you’re ordered to by management.”
Stations across the country seem to be, more than ever, engaged in a race to the bottom, a search for the lowest common denominator.
The goal is to find a few things most everyone cares about, cover those topics to death, then produce promotional videos showing how much they care about that which most everyone cares at least a little.
Anything that might make a viewer think, or require their full attention, is usually verboten.
Thus you’ll find a station sending news crews to half-a-dozen counties with a dusting of snow in order to gather material for a commercial showing how you can count on them for snow coverage. Meanwhile, dozens of other stories that fall under topics that didn’t score highly in the consultants’ polling go unreported.
So, while (most of) you didn’t ask, these are a few of the reasons that I left TV news and miss it almost never. The little I see today suggests it’s dumber than ever, and while I’m hardly a “very stable genius” who’s “like, really smart” like our president, I’m, like, reasonably intelligent, and, most important, I enjoy what I do for The Sun.
Thanks again to whoever sent that young lady out to Main Street to shoot the rainy street.
Notes, I get notes …
Thanks to the wiseacre (who shall, for a change, remain initial-less) who sent me a list of “Tips to Prevent Auto Theft.” This Dear Reader was responding to last week’s column, part of which was devoted to the tale of a Christmas heist of most of the contents of my car trunk after I apparently left it ajar one evening.
At the top of the list was the suggestion that people lock their cars. Number three was, “Take all signs of valuables inside with you or lock them in your trunk.”
Good advice, that – unless you leave your trunk ajar.