Sunday, July 08, 2007

Television News Jumps the Shark (Again)

In the opening scene of the 1987 hit movie Broadcast News, an earnest boy hands a mediocre report card to his father. After the father solemnly praises his son for doing his best, the question is left hanging as to what the future career options will be for someone who tries hard but is just not very smart.

It turns out that he became a network news anchor. At the time, some pundits suggested, and the filmmakers denied, that the lead character, played by William Hurt, was modelled after CBS news anchor Dan Rather. Whether that particular story was true or not, those both inside and outside of the television news business recognized that the movie's premise was all too often reality.

This is helpful background for the national news media controversy now being generated in Tyler, Texas, where the local CBS affiliate, KYTX, has brought in former Barker beauty and WWE ring-card girl Lauren Jones as its new 5:00 p.m. news anchor. Ms. Jones, who has neither journalism credentials nor much evidence of an IQ that exceeds her bra size, was brought on as the star of an upcoming Fox "reality tv show" to be called Anchorwoman. In a comment that makes one wonder whether he is a liar or a fool, station manager Phil Hurley is quoted as saying, "We're not doing it just for the money. These are strategic decisions...."

Critics of the stunt say that it demeans the profession, and Al Tompkins, who teaches broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute, dismisses it as a "clown show." Of course, that is correct, but it is hardly unique in that regard. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the dean of Mr. Tompkins' school, in response to criticisms of false reporting with regard to events in New Orleans, stated on PBS that the job of a journalist was to keep telling the story until it is gotten right, and that spirit hardly elevates the profession in the mind of the public. In addition, anyone who watches local (or national, for that matter) news programming knows that KYTX is hardly the first television outlet to hire attractive television reporters who know nothing about the news they are covering. The only difference in this case is that they are doing it intentionally.

That is not to say that the station is undeserving of criticism. They expose themselves as lacking seriousness about the news they claim to be covering. However, that only furthers a longstanding trend. Thoughtful people, unless it is only out of careless habit, simply do not any longer watch television to get their news.

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