Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Too Damn Much Local 'News'

A local TV station here in Tucson, a town that, to its credit, not much really happens in, airs eight hours of local news a day. The other stations have similar schedules.

And it does so with fewer than 10 reporters and a few exhausted anchors and weather people, all required to holler "Live! Local! Late-Breaking!" during these newscasts, all day and all night -- when "breaking" is defined as having some poor overworked reporter stand on an empty street corner where, hours before or hours in the future, some event of marginal or little note either happened or is anticipated to happen.

Having the poor reporter hustle back out to the "scene," you see, is how they make it "Live!"

By the way, I have news for you, o local TV station managers all across the country. "Local" is only a big deal when something of note is being shown.  "Late-breaking" is almost always untrue. And "live" is no big deal. TV was live in 1949. They since invented news film and then, lo, video tape and then digital video.

This constant exhortation to witness "breaking" news (when no news is actually breaking) is dangerous, as well, in that it baffles the sensible while encouraging the simple-minded in their delusion that the world is out of control. Each new phony news excitement fades, to be replaced by still another.

The other day, for example, local TV stations stayed live for an hour showing a Southwest Airlines 737 landing routinely in Phoenix and discharging passengers on the tarmac -- because some idiot had called in a bomb threat (which is something that happens with some regularity, causing planes to be diverted, in the U.S.). But to anyone chancing upon the breathless TV reports, it looked like a major news event was playing out. And to the simple-minded, it was seen, no doubt, as still another critical threat to the security they presume is constantly under attack. Not to mention as more evidence of the dark media conspiracy to cover up these constant threats, since the plane taxied away without incident and the matter was never referred to again once it had been milked for one morem ounce of phony drama on the night's ten o'clock news.

As a journalist, I originally came out of Philadelphia in the 1970s, when there were four daily papers (including the Inquirer and the Bulletin in a titanic struggle). There were two competing all-news radio stations. And all of the local TV stations had aggressive, savvy news operations that were, by way of both geography and of career paths for TV journalists, just a stone's throw from New York.

Those days are long gone in the big markets, but in the small and mid-sized TV markets, they never really were. And today, the local news reports are also laced with "news" segments that are sometimes nothing more than PR video from local enterprises (Raytheon PR video is always presented on the news as legit news footage here in Tucson, and you even see "news" segments built around advertisers, including car repair shops). The weather? Well, try keeping it local and compelling in a place where the skies are always blue and the weather is always nice, except sometimes it gets really hot and once in a blue moon it rains and everybody carries on about that for days.

The barrage of cooked-up local news is sad, but it's certainly not the fault of the TV reporters and anchors, who no longer make the dough that used to be available in local TV news and who far too often are working at an insane pace.

So. long story short ("Late Breaking!" but not "Live! Local!"), here's an interesting piece about burnout in local TV news.


Scott Reinardy, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, has authored a study in which he surveyed hundreds of TV journalists about the changes in the business and found that more than 20 percent of respondents are showing classic signs of job burnout.
A 2012 study showed that TV news staffs had increased by 4 percent, revenue was up, and stations were producing more content than ever before, often as much as 5 1/2 hours per day.
That says "as much as five and a half hours a day." Late breaking update! Local! It's eight hours in Tucson, and that cannot serve the public interest well, though it certainly gives rapacious local TV station owners (almost always major national chains) more opportunities to sell cheap advertising against cheap programming.


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