Why “I don’t watch”

LAF w/ Mrs. LAF, 10.24.09

LAF w/ Mrs. LAF, 10.24.09

At a party last weekend, I met a young lawyer who works as a public defender in metro Atlanta.  Politely, she asked if I had an occupation.  I gave her the shorthand:  “Local TV news guy.”  (She was dressed as a zombie; I was dressed as the Ghost of Americana.  You kinda had to be there…)

“Oh, like you’re on TV or something?”   Yeah, something like that.

“I don’t think I’ve ever watched the local news in Atlanta.”

I’m gonna stick my neck out — again — and say with certainty that everybody working in Atlanta TV news has had this conversation with numbing regularity.  In my case, the “I don’t watch TV news” conversations far exceed the frequency of the opposite “omigosh I watch Brenda / Monica / Amanda / Stephany every night!” conversations.

The “I don’t watch local news” conversations typically include a short critique of what they see as a nightly drumbeat of murder and mayhem.  There’s a bit of an elitist quality to the critiques.  The conversant is frequently educated and somewhat sophisticated.  Like the lawyer at the party, these folks are well-informed.  But they sidestep the local stories that aren’t relevant to them, and ignore the broadcasts that traffic in them.

Stories, such as — oh, say — the coverage of the guy who caused the grisly traffic accident on the Stone Mountain Freeway, who turned himself in and uttered an apology at the jail.  In a post on this site last week, I suggested that it would be reasonable for local TV to find something else to cover instead of that story.

This caused a bit of an uproar in my little corner of the blogosphere, particularly among people who apparently work in local TV news.

Based on the numerous comments that were very critical of that post, I would conclude that local TV news has almost zero chance of convincing that lawyer that their product is worth sampling.

The sad thing is this:  Atlanta TV news actually produces plenty of quality material.  But because local newscasts devote so many resources — and so much A-block time — to the mayhem (and the follow-ups to mayhem), many desirable viewers choose not to wade through that stuff in the hope that something worthwhile will follow.

The audience for local TV news is shrinking.  Do we try to expand it?  Do we try to find a niche that goes outside the murder-and-mayhem formula?  Or do we assume that the remaining audience watches for the tried-and-true formula, and climb all over each other to fight for the bleary eyeballs who haven’t abandoned us yet?

Thankfully, I lack the smarts, talent and chutzpah it takes to run a major market TV newsroom.  Because if I did, I think I’d be contorting myself to try to produce a product that would get the young zombie lawyer to watch — and re-thinking the stuff that has driven her away.  And apparently my tradition-minded troops would be very, very annoyed.

Thanks to “longgone” for asking the essential question in a “sport of TV news” comment.

Thanks to all the other commenters for the abuse.

Thanks to the late Screamin’ Jay Hawkins just for being who he was.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

16 thoughts on “Why “I don’t watch”

  1. Sammy

    Douglas,

    I’m watchin & lovin it!

    Trying to decide which is the more entertaining disaster: the production effort [actually lack of] or the story being reported.

    You put da spell on me boy!

    Reply
  2. Scott Hedeen

    Doug… yr hanging at hip cat parties… nobody who is “hip” watches TV news. You shouldve asked her if she reads People magazine or checks TMZ… if the whole world hated TV news as much as they say they did… it would all be “reality”shows.
    oh wait… you meant local news? oh she’s right. i only watch for the weather.

    Reply
  3. English Major

    In the process of interviewing 26 job candidates, I asked them what media outlets they follow on a regular basis. Answers ran the gamut, from CNN to the Business Chronicle to NPR to gawker.com, but not one mentioned a local TV station. Quite depressing for those of us who grew up on the six o’clock news, but I’m still convinced there could be a reversal for those stations willing to break the mold and innovate. I’ll leave it to those of you in the industry to debate who and how that might be…seems to be no shortage of opinions. Thanks for providing the forum, Mr. LAF!

    Reply
  4. Will Burke

    Well said sir. I’ve been enjoying your blog for a couple of months and couldn’t agree with you more here.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  5. Jolly Roger

    yes.. people are stupid because they don’t watch TV news! bullshit! people don’t watch TV news, because to coin a phrase from a former white house press sec speaking of Jimmy Carter, we have become “increasingly irrelevant”

    someone mentioned the Hip CROWD.. the hip crowd is the movement.. the movement will NOT be televised.. it will be blogged, tweeted, e-mailed, facebooked and more… no, this is not the internet revolution, it is more than that. So much more, the media has decided to simply call it “new media” to avoid renaming it every 6 months.

    NO one of any worth WATCHES local tv, not 2, 5, 11, or 46… BUT they still have an interest in local news.. and choose to get that info from said “new media”

    Problem? how to make NM profitable (and I don’t mean new mexico)

    the cool hip cats with their “kill your tv” shirts… may have been right.
    The Revolution will NOT be televised.

    Reply
  6. spaceyg

    As a FMM of America officer (Future Media Moguls) one of the first acquisitions I am planning is of Mark Winne. I plan to launch the MWC (Mark Winne Channel). All Mark Winne, all the time. This will make a nice companion channel in my burgeoning media empire to the DSC (Dark Shadows Channel).

    My astute team of Media Mogul advisers (seen here: http://twitsnaps.com/full_photo.php?img_id=18844&act=780240) tell me the future is pork bellies and niched, niched, niched media. I can do niched.

    Reply
  7. Jim

    To me it’s just sort of sad that people pay more attention to a kid in a balloon than they do to the race for mayor of Atlanta.

    I’ve done my best to raise my daughters to understand that you should at least pay some attention to “local” news, since it’s what affects you the most. I managed to get them involved when they were redistricted right before their junior year. Explained the process to them, and made them do the leg work to stay in their old school.

    Reply
  8. Sammy

    Since I don’t want to appear unhip, as apparently many LAF’s fellow bloggers are like not unhip, to continue my sense of comraderie with the LAF family I now promise I better stop watching the 6 o’clock snewooze.

    Reply
  9. Lauren V.

    Every time I’ve tuned in to the local news, the story being reported has indeed been murder & mayhem — which I enjoy in my videogames and horror flicks, but am possibly hugely squicked out by when it’s not fictional. Perhaps I’ve just always tuned in at the wrong time! But yeah, that’s why I’ll listen to WABE and read news sites & local blogs (where I can avoid the images of people being violently injured), but won’t sit down and watch a newscast. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

    Reply

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