Bad News from Local Television

Bad News from Local Television 

By Patrick F. Cannon

Some of you may remember Floyd Kalber and Len O’Conner, the long ago anchor and commentator respectively on Chicago’s Channel 5 News. I remember both with fondness as entirely professional, no nonsense newsmen. Kalber was a particular hero of mine, as he once talked the folks at Channel 5 into letting him just read the weather report, rather than having a dedicated weather person stand in front of a map and parse the forecast for valuable minutes that could have been devoted to real news.

Predictably, his good sense approach to the weather forecast was doomed. Eventually, Kalber decamped for New York and the Today show, where he did the news every morning and reported occasional stories for NBC News. He later returned to Chicago and ended his career at the local birthplace of “Happy Talk” news, WLS-TV, Channel 7. It must have been bittersweet.

While the local ABC affiliate was the groundbreaker in softening and cheering up the news, all of the local Chicago stations now follow its lead. In a 30-minute newscast, with approximately 22 minutes devoted to content, there will be two weather forecasts. The first one will give the basics, but if there are any rain, snow or temperature extremes within 1,000 miles of the city, it will end with “the teaser of doom.”  In the later forecast, always longer and more detailed, the impending winter storm will turn out to be flurries. This is not to say that the weather folks don’t do a good job when there is an actual weather event; they do. But is there any excuse for devoting so much time to the weather when it’s just normal for the season? And for the seeming competition among female meteorologists to see who can wear the tightest dress?

While the overemphasis on weather is annoying, the flagrant promotion of network entertainment programming as part of the newscast is infuriating.  If ABC wants to promote “Dancing With the Stars,” it should do so in a commercial, not have its news anchors, presumably professional journalists, debase themselves by pretending that what fading actor is attempting to rejuvenate his or her career by dancing the tango with some hard body, is actually just as worthy of coverage as the latest failure of the political class to solve the state’s fiscal mess.

Thank God for newspapers, even though declining circulation and ad revenues make them a dubious investment for their corporate owners. What would television news directors do if they couldn’t depend on their local newspaper to uncover the stories that they piggy back on for their own content? Their own “investigative” teams are largely a joke.

Thirty years ago, newspapers were a hot investment item. Family owned papers began to sell out for the exorbitant amounts corporations were willing to pay for what were then considered cash cows. Then appeared the internet and a new generation that seemed unwilling to tear themselves away from their computer and phone screens, and who seem increasingly unable to tell the difference between unbiased reporting and opinion.

If great newspapers were still privately owned, they might be better able to weather revenue decline without having to worry about panicked stockholders.  I wish someone would buy the Chicago Tribune as a civic duty, just as Jeff Bezos of Amazon has bought the Washington Post. In the meantime, everyone who cares about unbiased reporting should subscribe to their local paper for the real news, and then depend on their local TV news for entertainment and the weather forecast.

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Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon

5 thoughts on “Bad News from Local Television

  1. I care deeply about real news, but as you point out, that is sadly lacking in today’s newscasts. I truly don’t care about Actor X’s latest breakup.

    Today’s newscasters focus on the most horrible stories and inflate the drama whenever possible. I worry that this focus on the negative only desensitizes us to the cruelty that people are inflicting on their fellow citizens and pets. When you see this stuff all the time, it becomes the norm. I fear that it only encourages copycats.

    On the very rare occasion that a newscaster tells a happy story, I cry with joy. Let’s tell more stories about people selflessly helping others! Maybe more people will do that instead of being self-centered jerks!

    Don’t even get me started on these same networks’ online news sites. They’ve become so difficult to read that I almost don’t want to bother. The content consists mostly of large pictures and very little text. And of course, there are the endless pop-up ads that are difficult to close. They’re designed to make it very easy to accidentally click on a link that brings up even more obnoxious advertising. Some of those ads are designed so that, if I’m looking at it on my phone instead of on my laptop, the only way to get out of it is to turn off my phone! Finally, the online sites contain even more links to the kinds of articles you’d see on the cover of National Enquirer. Come on, ABC, aren’t you better than that?? Get up out of the sewer!

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    1. Good points about the online sites. I use an ad blocker that eliminates the pop-ups and most of the other placed ads (Norton has a free one. for example). However, it doesn’t block the sleazy side stories or the “sponsored content” that are parts of the sites themselves.

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  2. TV and print news in general have become an entertainment media ever since USA Today first started selling papers from coin operated street boxes shaped like TV screens. Local papers like the Trib may not be as entertaining as ABC or that superannuated gang of clowns at WGN, but they are hardly free of bias, even in their so-called news reporting. There simply aren’t many–if any–Floyd Kalbers around anymore.

    I used to rely on the NYT for news but even though they still produce solid (if wordy) reporting, they seem to be agenda-driven (“All the news that fits our bent”). I find the WSJ more reliable. Their opinion page is conservative but their news reporting is pretty straight-forward and factual, free of the hype, spin, shading, and progressive narrative you find in the Times.

    In Europe it’s widely accepted that news outlets are aligned with political ideologies. This seems now the trend in the US, with the difference being that here circulation, ratings and ad revenue drive the media, hence the warm-front weather bimbos on Chicago stations and the beauty pageant blonds on Fox News.

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