Monday, October 20, 2003

Breaking "News"

Yesterday's Inquirer had a lengthy and well publicized story in the Arts & Entertainment section about the pathetic state of local television news. Perpetually cranky TV critic Jonathan Storm watched the 11 p.m. newscasts of the CBS, ABC, and NBC affiliates for a full week and concluded, "The shows on Channels 3, 6, and 10 featured platoons of earnest people trying to spread what seemed like a heartfelt belief that viewers couldn't live without their important information. But most of it was worthless: rapid-fire conjecture, self-promotion, celebrity intrigue, and provincial tales of mayhem and tragedy in the daily lives of ordinary people. Only an optimist or a fool watches local news for information on anything but the weather anymore."

To which the entire Inquirer Sunday circulation responded: Well, duh.

Storm may think it's noble to tell us that local TV news is a wasteland of relevant information, but that horse left the barn long ago. Eyewitness News, Action News, News 10 at 11, The Ten O'Clock News, WB17 News at Ten -- call it what you will, just don't call it "news." It's entertainment, really, Access Hollywood wrapped, and not very well at that, in the guise of journalism.

Frankly, Storm's story was neither shocking nor news. Moreover, it's not even useful -- he didn't interview one news director to get his reaction, nor did he offer any suggestions for improvement. Meanwhile, the medium, once parodied so brilliantly by The Simpsons, has regressed so much that even Kent Brockman can't keep up -- or down. I'd revel in the public trashing, except that it won't make one bit of difference. Storm knows it, every "news" director in town knows it, and station management sure as hell knows it.

The Inquirer has done a nice job under new editor Amanda Bennett of bringing back intelligence and passion to local news coverage, but reading the newspaper takes more effort than watching television. Channel 6's Jim Gardner continues to be seen as a news authority, Channel 10 continues to offer up nice-looking guys with good voices, good suits, good hair, and empty heads, and Channel 3 continues to insist that its smoking-hot new anchor Alycia Lane was tapped for her journalism skills only, and people keep tuning in. The old saying should be changed -- no news is, well, no news.


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