Wednesday, April 28

In the News: "Do local newscasters confound you on purpose? What it may mean for gas prices this summer."

Like Erica, who posted yesterday, I don't really watch the TV news. I keep up by listening to Morning Edition on NPR, skimming and/or reading the New York Times, and with the occasional viewing of The News Hour on PBS. Even if I had cable, you could not get me within a hundred feet of cable news. But, once in a great while, I'll watch the local news. Oy gevalt!

Nothing highlights the absurdity of most commercial news media like minor-market local coverage. Desperate for viewers, local stations drop in teasers during prime-time commercial breaks, teasers that are apparently meant to variously annoy you, scare you, or make you go: WTF? Or, as we say in Utah, what the crap? Their purpose is definitely not to give you helpful information. Here's the kind of thing I mean:

"A grandmother, a phone call, an inmate. Why they matter to your bank account."
"Rain? Snow? Sun? All of the above? Will it be time to break out the bbq, or unpack the umbrellas?"
"How childhood obesity is affecting the safety of your pets, and what it could mean for Southern Utah."

I guess sometimes we just don't have news here. Like for example last night. After watching another fine episode of Parenthood, I thought I'd catch a few minutes of the local news to see what's going on. Top story: It's Windy. After a couple of days of beautiful spring weather, a storm was a-brewin'. So there were about ten minutes of on-location reporting and recorded interviews of people all saying more or less the same thing: "It's really windy." At one point, we saw a picture of a tree that had blown over. The reporter mentioned a power outage and said, "...possibly caused by this downed tree." Orrrr possibly not. Possibly caused by a downed tree fifteen miles away, or by someone simultaneously using their toaster oven and Wii in a poorly-wired house. Who can say for sure?

My feelings about local news got some indirect play in my latest book, Once Was Lost. Melinda Ford is a local reporter in the fictional town of Pineview. Bits of information about Jody Shaw's kidnapping are revealed throughout the book in the form of Melinda's newscasts. She's one of those side characters for whom I imagined an entire life outside of the book...I pictured her as a cross between Nicole Kidman's character in To Die For and a young, ambitious small-town Nancy Grace who practiced saying, "For KPXU, this is Melinda Ford" in the mirror every night, with different dramatic inflections. Like Samara's mom says in the book, "There's nothing that girl loves more than bad news," and in a way Jody's kidnapping was the best thing that ever happened to Melinda Ford.

Which brings me back to last night's news, and me saying to my husband, "What are they smiling about?" They were grinning like fools there behind the news desk. I guess that wind storm made them pretty happy.


Gerb said...

My kids and I still quote the on-location reporter during Katrina trying to keep the story going 24/7, staring weightily into the camera and declaring with a serious frown that the devastation was utterly devastating.

Sara Z. said...

"As you can probably see, everything around me has collapsed..."

Melissa Walker said...

Love this post, and SO true! I watch NY1 news but it's a little more big-time than my hometown Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill news--I watch that when I visit my mom, because SHE watches it. And I giggle, and she says I'm being snobby. But really? It's funny.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

Oh, we have terrible newscasts here in Springfield MO! It's either so full of terrible crime and horrid things that are happening all around us and we're all going to die-RIGHT NOW!, or it's about farmers, plants, the county fair, and other things I find boring. The worst though is that there's a married couple who report the evening news together, so after every story (and sometimes during the story) they smile at each all cheesy like and give each other googly eyes. It's terrible!

Wendy Toliver said...

Sara, your post made me LOL. Mainly b/c I live in utah too and the news stories are a bit ... well, flimsy. For better or for worse (I'd rather hear how windy it is than how many bodies were found in the garbage bin just up my street, for example). Also, my major is in broadcast journalism so it cracks me up to read the teasers you highlighted. Anyway, thanks for the great post, and I agree with you 100%. Oh, and yes, I have to roll my eyes (or laugh depending on my mood) when there's a reporter at the scene of the ... wind.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Local newscasters can be pretty, well, what you said. Never mind smiling over storms, though. My favorite is when there's some huge disaster somewhere, they look all grim, and a second later it's all smiles for, "And now for our report on the puppy show!"