Monday, March 28, 2005

Local TV news

When you're watching local TV news (do you even bother?), do get that feeling that you've been sent back to your 6th grade classroom? Do you feel like newscasters are talking down to you in that smooth, slow speaking style, as if your feeble little mind couldn't take in all the big news about that latest money scam or cosmetic procedure?

I attended the Louisiana Bucket Brigade crawfish boil this weekend where, over mudbugs and Abita beer, I had a very interesting conversation with a recovered local TV reporter.

She worked in a few markets (Green Bay, Indianapolis...) for all of the networks over a period of several years. She said the work became extremely mundane and irrelevant, for example, covering the surface details of accidents day after day, instead of reporting stories of significant and broader impact that actually matter to communities.

While working for a Fox affiliate, she decided to leave behind her career when (trying not to get my stories mixed up here), she suggested to her editor a story about proposed management changes to an aquifer that was used by a large portion of the community. She was told that was an old person story--it wouldn't be covered.

Tired of being assigned to do stupid stories, she decided print journalism might be an option. It wasn't--at least not without tremendous sacrifice. Newspapers don't really want to talk to people with broadcast news experience. In any event, almost everyone who thinks they want to be a print journalist has to pay their dues working a number of years for very low pay. It's an unfortunate reality which affords almost no opportunity for people who have worthwhile experience and talent to make a career change.

Skepticism about the journalistic credentials of TV journalists may be merited. The ex-TV reporter openly admitted that when she took a job as an issue activist and canvasser, she was presented with a complex range and depth of information that opened up her eyes to an entirely new understanding of the world. She found herself working on water quality issues of vital importance to whole communities which had little chance of being covered by TV news organizations, or if they were, would be covered in only the most banal manner, and with extreme brevity.

TV journalists can be very defensive about the way they do their jobs. I once wrote to a local news organization to complain that covering a story with one or two sentences can't possibly do justice to an issue. I was answered by a news editor in a very hostile manner, listing the several stories his news team covered, plus weather and sports. His answer was exactly my point. Weather and sports are given way too much time. After adding in advertising and those stupid little feel good human interest stories, there's no time left for in-depth stories on issues of relevance--not that an editor would even consider boring viewers with anything of true significance.

I don't know why I bother to watch local news--maybe just to find something to complain about while observing the sedation of an entire nation of fools as their country goes to hell.


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