Monday, August 22, 2005

Things That Are Not News 

I offer the following as a public service to news directors everywhere. In this age of ADD media, where five-second sound-bites are supposed to serve as in-depth coverage, there’s really not a lot of spare news real estate to go around

But... there could be, if news programs would stop covering things that aren’t news. Ideally, they should just take all the fluff and crap and stick it somewhere in a single half-hour show (not disguised as news), and that’s it. That’s all that the following kinds of stories merit. But, instead, on local news, these are about all we see. Two minutes of “hard” news to open up, then descent into crap.

Nowadays, though, by the time these little fluff pieces come up on the nightly news, I’ve already seen the story and either read or ignored it online. And, hell, most of the time, they’re stories that I ran across on FARK several weeks earlier. The point is, this stuff is available information, if people want it. It should not be cluttering up coverage of important things – meaning what the government, business, military or others are doing to us in the name of whatever crusade they’re on this week.

Herewith, then, my list of stories that should never be included on programs that are supposed to cover the news.
  1. Missing persons, except in very specific cases. The specific case is this: the person went missing in the local news market on which the story is being covered. Otherwise, there’s no reason at all that TV news has to tell me about a runaway bride in... wherever the hell she was, or a missing teen in Aruba. Ah, Natalee Holloway. Sorry, but she’s only really news in two places: Aruba and her home town. The odds that I’d find her by looking in Los Angeles? Nil.

  2. Sports. I know this one will get a lot of flack but y’know what? Sports scores are not news. They’re statistics, maybe important if you’ve got money on the game, but then stick ‘em in a weekend sports show or something, separate from the news. And anything a pro athlete does or says is definitely not news. When they open their mouths, it’s generally to spout banal double-speak that almost makes W look literate. When they do anything else... well, why glorify it when adults indulge in junior high school behavior?

  3. Entertainment and celebrities. Likewise, the weekend box office is a number, and you can find it online. And, anyway, the news media are so in the pocket of the entertainment media that you can’t trust any stories you see, anyway. Is a news program trashing Tom Cruise? Hm. Maybe the studio that owns them has a movie coming out against one of his. Are they doing a feel-good puff-piece about a certain starlet rescuing orphaned puppies? Might want to check and see if she has any projects in development with said studio. (If you paid attention, you’d be surprised at how frequently celebs cycle in and out of the news as their latest project approaches, and then goes away.) But, as with athletes, nothing a celebrity does is really worthy of attention, unless maybe it’s Martin Sheen getting arrested at an anti-war protest or (sadly) Der Gropenator running for governor – but file those under politics, which do belong on the news.

  4. Weather, sort of. Here’s all we need from a weather report: it’s going to be (sunny/cold/rainy/whatever) tomorrow, trending toward (whatever) through the weekend. Weather warnings are in effect in these areas, if applicable. That’s about it. We don’t need the fancy graphics and the maps and the pictures, and we sure as hell don’t need the flashy weather dude/weather chick to give the info and waste countless minutes in cutesy banter. Blame LA original Dr. George Fishbeck for this one – he was the first celebrity weatherman on TV, and we suffer for that now.

  5. Medical trend of the week. Especially during sweeps months, we run across these stories about new medical treatments, techniques and whatnot that are really just bullshit, and/or a reporter getting a little pro bono lipo in exchange for publicity. Botox became big news because the news made it big news. In return, countless morons have had poison shot into their faces – starting with reporters on local news stations. If only they’d get the stuff shot into their vocal chords instead.

  6. Cute animal stories. Wandering seals, lost puppies, rescued horses, whatever – it ain’t news. This kind of stuff belongs as a column filler in Reader’s Digest. And even uncute animal stories, like the latest shark attack, aren’t really news, except in the local area. But I doubt that people in Minnesota need to know if there are sharks in Florida.

  7. Person on the street commentaries. There’s nothing more useless than the sound bite from the person on the street who saw something. Generally, it’s probably unreliable or highly biased. It also tends to be inarticulate at best, and don’t forget that the eyewitness’s big motivator is, most likely, “Hoo-hah, I’m on the news.” And has anyone noticed that little kids don’t talk like little kids anymore? I don’t know if that’s a function of the news, or what, but whenever they talk to some six year-old on TV, the kid comes off sounding like a fifty year-old midget. It’s creepy.

  8. Food and restaurants. Again, not news. This is advertisement. And I don’t know about you, but I find nothing more boring than watching a review of some restaurant I know I’m never going to go to. Not when the phrase “California cuisine” pops up in the intro. “California cuisine” is as big an oxymoron as, oh, “British cuisine.” It’s a code phrase for “entrée the size of your thumb, and way overpriced.” That, and combinations of food a two year-old wouldn’t come up with. (Tangerines are not a garnish.) For those of you lucky enough to not have been exposed to it, California Pizza Kitchen serves absolutely nothing resembling pizza. Or food, for that matter. But, to reassert my original point, restaurant reviews are free advertising, not news. Banish, banish, banish.

  9. Happy talk and banter. To every single person reading the news out there: we don’t care what you think, we don’t laugh at your attempted humor. You’re nothing but a paid monkey reading the TelePrompTer, ideally without any sort of editorial emotion in your voice. And, no matter what you think, you’re not a reporter or a journalist. You’re a prop. But, of course, there seems to be a newsreader school of emphasis, so that the editorials get through anyway. Next time any newsreader says certain words, like “AIDS” or “Internet” note the inflection. The sentence usually comes across as, “Joe Smith, who has... AIDS...” or “Jane Jones, who met the man on the... Internet...” It’s subtle but useless booga-booga. And there are a lot of words that get the treatment. You know, honestly, local news outlets could up he interest in their programs and improve the coverage by having a weekly lottery. Regular folk enter, and if they win, they get to read from the TelePrompTer for a week. At the least, it would make the cult of personality vanish from the news. (The above comments do not apply to actual reporters who happen to be on the news, but that only happens at the national Network level.)

  10. Glurge. This is what Snopes defines as those urban legends designed to make you all warm and fuzzy. And, again, they belong in Reader’s Digest, not on the news. You know the stuff; cab driver finds $20K in cash in his cab and returns it; childhood sweethearts lose touch and are reunited fifty years later; little Billy’s lemonade stand raises enough to send stranger with cancer to Disneyworld. Chances are, all of these stories are online anyway, or in newspapers, which have the luxury of truly needing filler.
Hm. Looking at that list and considering local news, I think I’ve just cut their one hour shows down to a minute and a half. Well, good. Now it means they’ve got something like fifty empty minutes they can now fill with real news.

What a farking concept...

Glad to hear I'm not the only one who isn't in love with California Pizza Kitchen.

Call me low-brow, but when it's time for pizza, I'm probably not hankerin' for tandoori chicken or goat cheese or free-range shrimp or whatever else they're touting.

It's time for Shakey's. Greasy, ghetto, unashamed.

Ah, Shakey's Pizza Parlor & Ye Olde Public House...
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