This is a "Dear John" letter to an old flame of mine: television news.
For the last eight years I’ve gone without having a television or cable hook-up more often than I’ve had it. My wife recently talked me into getting basic cable again, so that she can watch her nature documentaries, which she had grown attached to during our last stint being "plugged in".
Before I got married, I would only watch tv news programming. I would watch a lot of it, a habit picked up from my father. This will be embarrassing to admit today, but I was delighted when I was finally able to watch CNN, back in the late 80’s. 24-hour news..!!! What an innocent thrill that was, to a news junkie.
Then life interfered. To save money we decided to not bother to plug in to television when my wife and I got married. As our fortunes have risen and fallen, and we’ve moved and moved again, so too have we plugged in and out of television’s window to the world. Now we’re plugged in once more.
Bowing to my curiosity, I’ve been checking the odd news show once again. Big mistake, as far as I’m now concerned. I’ve gone from a habit of being a tv news junkie, to choosing to never watch a single program. Frankly: what’s the point?
TV news today reminds me of a newspaper that carried only horoscopes, movie reviews and editorial cartoons.
So many of the headline stories are about polls. That new poll says this, this new poll reports that. Why is this called news?? It might be "fun" to review a poll’s results, but beyond that why would such things have any more practicality than an average horoscope. Polls are to news what astrology is to journalism, as far as I can tell. Am I missing something?
Next pet peeve of mine are the panel discussions. How are these supposed to inform us? An event happens, and the panel is convened to opine on "what this means". Not so much to talk about what happened, but to prophetize what shadow it will cast into the future. Back to astrology again.
There’s also an overwhelming (and unhealthy, I think) pre-occupation with reviewing events as if it were all a staged play. A politician gives an answer to a question at a press conference, and the panel analyzes the theatrical performance with as exacting an eye as any drama critic. Why not show more of the press conference, so that we can see for ourselves what the speaker said? It’s like showing a movie review instead of letting the audience actually see the movie. If time is limited, shouldn’t the details of the actual story take precedence over what the employees of the media company reporting on it may feel about it..??
This ties into my final point of dissatisfaction with tv news: they talk about things, rather than providing information on what it is that they are talking about. It reminds me of an editorial cartoon: you’re supposed to already know the story, so that you can put the cartoonist’s commentary into a context whereby their point adds to your understanding of the story. But first must come the actual story!!
As one of the commercials that interupted my old tv news shows used to say: "Where’s the Beef?"
Now I understand why so much political discussion nowadays is not much more elevated than "Bush is a warmonger!" "No he’s not" "Yes he is!!".
I remember, in the dim light of my youth, that our local news broadcasts used to have segments called "background". The news reader would read a report, for instance, Canadian troops being sent to Cyprus, then announce, "And now for some background on this story we turn to [some guy in a suit]. So why are we needed in Cyprus?" And we would be given a capsule history of Greek and Turkish conflict in Cyprus.
Now, who knows how biased or incomplete or inaccurate the resulting explanations would be… at least there was a pretense at providing a factual, rather than emotional, context for the headline, an intellectual foundation for the points of view later to be expressed in the panel discussions that made the most difference: at the dinner table at home, the water cooler at work or the playground at school.
These days it seems that the tv media have switched jobs with its viewers: now we do the fact-finding, they do the panel discussions.
I’ll tune in for live interviews, where I get to decide for myself what it is that I’m looking at.
Otherwise: it’s a –30– for me, as far as tv news is concerned.