By Race Bannon
Today’s tv news follows predictable algebra: stories need to be an easy to get quick turn, and have a low litigation risk. Hustlers, hookers and dirty preachers are busted yet again, but purveyors of true lawlessness and high crimes at the executive level…WALK.
Broadcasters want their news operations to be viewed as smart. They fly 20 color HD graphics with wiping titles to announce “From your street…to Wall Street”. Don’t forget the jet engine sound beneath the 80’s era, canned, rock and roll. How desperate.
For years tv stations kept education reporters, health reporters, and feature reporters on staff. That was before consultants convinced news directors to sell their news as “Live!-Local!-and Late Breaking!” No one knows for sure when abstract video of cars and buildings took over substantive feature, medical, and education stories, but it did. Traffic fatality? That’s your story. Late to a story but have to cover it anyway? Run video of cars near the story that was missed. Don’t have time to do the story? Hang an HD camera out the window run that video with a stand up…remember to use the chopper video first. That’s not smart.
Broadcasters want their news departments to be viewed as committed, but with managers programming two, three, and four hour live shows, there can be no commitment to news in its classical meaning, only in its meaning as “reality“ news. The everyday occurrences which are many, must be made into “news” by a lucky few. Each reporter must tell at least three stories, preferably all different. They may have many false starts or “throw aways “ (shoot this story until something more ratings oriented comes along [code: breaking news])
So if you‘re one of the unfortunates who has a reporter begging you to tell them what you saw yesterday morning, just say no, and offer them a bathroom and a big glass of water. Though they may look OK outwardly, inwardly they’re tired, hungry, and dehydrated zombies, who likely suffer from a two weeks old, stimulant oriented U.T.I. More importantly these poor wretches have been driving in a live truck all day, breathing mobile generator fumes, and have either aired or thrown away at least two stories already, and have only thirty minutes left to tell yours, which may also be soon thrown away. Now that’s coverage you can count on!
In summary broadcasters want their news operations to be viewed as tough, smart, and committed, but the business practice of killing good stories for fear of litigation and time consuming fact-finding, the obsession with fancy graphics and sounds in place of legitimate community franchises like education, features, and health, and the filling of giant news holes with what is in effect hotdogs and cereal, make a charge of hypocrisy more than dedicated, determined, and dependable.
Race Bannon is a pseudonym for a current employee at an Atlanta TV station.