I almost talked myself out of writing this post, given the current trends in TV news, but all that notwithstanding, I just cannot contain myself. So, I’ll fly in the face of current practices, and leave myself wide open to those who might criticize me as being “out of touch”. I’m in touch. I understand the directions local television news departments are taking, however I am compelled to put forth a different point of view. That’s what I do anyway.
So, I’ll preface my findings and remarks with these facts: I am a news addict. I follow stories online. I find the New York Times, Washington Post, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, The Charlotte Observer, “Slate”, and statesman.com in my inbox every morning. Reading them may lead me down other cyber-trails. I also still subscribe to the local, daily newspaper. You know, the kind that lands on your driveway in a plastic bag or a rubber band. Most of it is consumed with breakfast and coffee.
And, yes, I watch televised news. I have four TVs tuned to different channels starting at 5 O’clock daily. Soon, I’ll have to start watching at 4 p.m. Lately, I’ve been taking notes. I’d developed some theories about stations I was watching, and I wanted to substantiate or debunk them. So, as mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been doing content analysis of what I’m seeing. I was looking for one thing in particular, but the research revealed several things, one of them rather unexpected.
Now, I’m getting to the subject at hand. I understand why stations do not write world news/international news in their 6 O’clock newscasts. After all, news junkies like me would have just watched the network news at 5:30 p.m., if they were available to their TVs. More and more, many people are not able to see the network news, however, because they’re stuck on MOPAC or somewhere.
There is always cable news from several networks that may satisfy that urge to be part of the world, beyond Texas. What about those who do not have cable or satellite sources for news? Where will they get their TV news? Then, this concern crept inside the thought process. They are not getting balanced world news. If they have access to alternatives to locally produced news, they may be seeking sites on the Internet that reflect their point of view, solidifying their preconceived notions. They may be finding what they want on talk radio. It’s ubiquitous on the AM dial. HUTs (Households Using Television) are down. The supposition is that the audience is not available to television because the audience is someplace else finding national and international news or not.
Maybe this is why many have unfounded beliefs about the health care/health insurance reform now before Congress. Mainstream, local media is obsessed with being hyper-local, and they shy away from subject matter that require thought, focusing instead on all of the commotion at the town hall meetings. There have been a few brave reporters who have found ways to write interesting and accurate portrayals of a hot-button subject. This past week, Mary Ann Roser, American-Statesman health reporter, found ways to clear the air of some of the confusion. The health care/health insurance debate can be localized, yet few try even though that’s what people are talking about—One definition of news.
That lack of debate in local media disturbs me daily. What my research revealed however disturbs me even more: None. None of the local stations monitored included international or world news in their late newscasts. No one.
Today (September 1, 2009) I found that columnist George Will is ready to pull the plug on our involvement in the Afghanistan war. I read in with interest in the Washington Post his reasons for stepping away from that conflict , a bloody battlefield where we lost a record number of lives this past month. Will it be on the 10 O’clock news? I’d like to hear the words from George Will himself. I want to know more.
The Obama administration from the outset said that it would have dialogue with the world. If we the voters do not hear the details of that dialogue, how can we make decent decisions at the polls? Like it or not, we are more than Austinites, and Texans. We are Americans and citizens of the world. We need our news to reflect that. The Austin American-Statesman gives a nod to world news in the “A” section, but at least it is there in print hours after the actual event. I fail to understand why a strong international news story with compelling visuals is not better than some of the truly weak content found during my analysis. (Other specific findings in future posts.)
True, many stations cut CNN coverage out of their budgets in recent years, but network feeds and sometimes live pictures are available from the networks. Producers looking at lousy leads and weak content overall should consider broadening their horizons. There is a whole world of news out there.
© Jim McNabb, 2009