News stations are in the unenviable position to both broadcast the news and also sell their wares. Thus, the line between actual news and sensationalism is so blurry, even coke-bottle glasses can’t clear it up.
In an unscientific study I undertook last week, one local channel started every 11 p.m. newscast with the same opening, “We’re following breaking news.” They did this every night although the content was marginally news, and seldom urgent enough to call it “breaking.” A sinkhole in Wadesboro was considered breaking news at night even though it was also considered breaking news that afternoon.
What is the statute of limitations on a hole in a parking lot?
To milk the story further, they had a piece the next day talking about how the sinkhole might affect our weekend plans. First off, I’ve lived in the area since 1994 and have gone through Wadesboro three times at most; Second of all, how many people in the broadcast area actually give a hoot about Wadesboro?
My rule of thumb generally is if I see a large hole in the pavement, I avoid it as best as possible.
One night there was breaking news about a criminal case. They even stationed a dutiful reporter outside of the courthouse. The dark and vacant courthouse that wouldn’t have any people in it until the next day. Nothing better than a field report just for the sake of wasting everyone’s time. Sort of like when they send a person out in a snowstorm and have them gauge how much white stuff has fallen by holding a glove out for a few seconds. I’m sure some focus group has told the suits in the executive offices that it “connects” with the viewer by going to the scene of a bank robbery that took place yesterday to add “authenticity.”
Maybe if they kept the reporters in-house, they wouldn’t have to slash budgets each year when ratings fall.
I remember as a kid if there was a “Special Report” breaking into a TV program, it was significant. Maybe Reagan was shot, Sadat was dead, the space shuttle exploded, or war broke out somewhere. Today, they might interrupt things to tell us weather is possibly coming our way, and they use the term “our” liberally. We hear about hurricanes as if they are in our own backyard, we see reporters getting blown sideways, and we watch interviews with toothless residents full of bravado vowing to stare down the eye of the storm. Then the storm is covered non-stop even though we are a good three hours inland and have suffered little to no effects.
Heck, sometimes the hurricane never comes, letting the toothless grins of the brave get shown.
I’m getting desensitized to it all so when there actually is breaking news, I’m going to think the boy who called wolf is knocking on my door again. Maybe when I’m carried off by the tornado I can see that sinkhole all the way in Wadesboro.