Thursday, August 03, 2006

Oracle for News Director

On Tuesday night, I turned on the television and decided to catch some local news. This is a rare event for me. I have nothing against local newscasts, except that they typically cover very little real news. I can get more information more quickly by doing my own searching on the internet. Besides, by watching little television, I have managed to avoid most of the political campaign commercials that everyone is complaining about. However, I had the flu, had slept and read all day, and was bored. So, I turned on the news.

On this particular evening, during the first 10 minutes of the newscast, I learned that the day's news was that it was hot, that it would continue to be hot for at least the next several days, that we should drink lots of water, that demand for electricity was high but the utilities were ok thus far, and that I might not want to run my dishwasher during peak hours to help them out. It was added that it was hot and will be for a while. They had even found a guy fixing air conditioners to tell us that it was hot and that he used an umbrella to shield the sun while he drank lots of water.

Imagine that! It is hot -- in July -- in the south. Stop the presses! Drink lots of water!

I turned it off and thought about drinking. I doubt I will go back to local news anytime soon.

News organizations, which are losing sleep over shrinking audiences, have yet to figure out that they will not get people to watch the news if they don't cover any news -- while the current heat wave may have merited a minute or two on Tuesday night, it shouldn't have gotten 1/3 or more of the newscast. Over the last generation, local and national newscasts have unsuccessfully tried to expand audiences by broadening appeal through offering more short stories on whatever they think average people (meaning people that don't watch the news) might want to hear about -- including, on even cool days, four weather segments during a 30 minute newscast. Ultimately, however, for news to have an appeal, it must offer something of value to those who are interested in news. From there, it can expand from its base. This is not to say that commercial news must sound like NPR -- where dullness seems to be regarded as a virtue and a studied science -- but it does mean that there must be some content passed along with the production and entertainment value put into the broadcast.

As long as I am giving advice to people who don't want it, I would really rather that the stations not send their reporters out to stand in front of empty courthouses at 10:00 p.m., and that they would instead get their reporters to learn a little bit more about the events and ramifications of what went on in the courthouse that day -- or, if they have already done that, let them file their report and go home to sleep to get ready for the next day. Live reports don't impress anyone who realizes that the reporter is the only live person within 3 blocks.


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