26 August 2003

Letter to the Editor

A nice little diddy that I came across and wish to share with all of you.
To set it up, this is an actual letter to a TV station in Indianapolis from a "concerned" viewer.

Sharp writing that rivals a Simpsons episode.


The Ten Little Secrets Of Local TV News
By Ted Mandell, The Indianapolis Star 8/12/03
Submitted by Pennie Westers
Dear Paula Anchorwoman, attractive, upbeat reader of our nightly local TV news:
The charade is over. It's time for your viewers to let you and your happy-face sidekicks in on a little secret.

We're not the naive, non-thinking couch potatoes you think we are.

While you smile and tell us about the dangers of eating peanuts for men with oversized prostates, let me give you a history lesson in local news.

After growing for 40 years and then rotting for the next 20, local TV news coverage has fueled this fear-stricken, head-buried-in-the-sod society of ours for long enough. It's time for an overhaul.

Local news coverage was established to inform the public as part of a Federal Communications Commission license to broadcast. It was not intended to be a sea of teasers, shameless self-promotion and smarmy personalities.

Let me whisper a few other secrets into your earpiece:

* Delivering a sentence with dramatic pauses and roller-coaster nuances does not make the story important. Just read the script and quit auditioning for the next local production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."

* The word "live" is a TV term from the 1970s and has no meaning in today's televised world. Neither does "exclusive." We also don't care if you "brought it to us first." No one is interested in hearing, "As we reported to you first last week." Quit bragging like an 8-year old boy.

* No matter how many double dopplers, future tracks and weather guarantees, the meteorologist is only correct about half the time. And zero-percent accountable. Those aren't weather labs. They are pre-fabricated weather models sent from a consulting company. The weather reporter can stare at the Vegas-sized bank of video monitors all day long, but that won't make him capable of predicting Mother Nature with the pinpoint accuracy you claim.

This just in, sky-view cameras don't show us anything at night except street lights.

* Speaking of accountability, teasing a story with a question -- Could your garage door kill you? Do you know what's in your sink drain? Is your child safe playing in your front lawn? -- is blatantly irresponsible and unnecessarily provokes fear in the viewer, at least until after the commercial when we find out there's really nothing to fear. Stop asking me questions. I'm tired of screaming the answers back at you.

* My city is not as dangerous as you make it out to be. The insistence in putting a beat reporter on the steps of the courthouse gives the daily impression that my neighborhood is full of rapists, thieves and arsonists.

We're tired of seeing the same slow-motion footage of a low-life leaving the courthouse elevator every night. Ninety-nine percent of the people in my hometown are law-abiding citizens. Quit magnifying the few criminals.

* There is no such thing as an anniversary of a murder. Move on and throw the old footage away. We don't want to see it.

* Every story in the world is not logically linked to another. These waves of child abductions, plagues of Internet predators and flocks of armed schoolchildren are nothing more than an ocean of local muck-diggers desperately seeking some connection of every horrific event to their own hometowns.

* Being "live on location" does not mean you have information to provide to the public. It means you have a satellite truck. Schools are closed at night. So are city halls and churches. What are you doing standing out in the dark? Hey, Belinda Standup, get out of the cold and back in the studio.

* The newsroom isn't live, either. The cat's out of the bag. You're not answering impromptu, probing questions from your anchor. You're just reading a teleprompter of prepared text -- usually written at a third-grade level.

* It's time to fire the pricey news consultant who has turned your 30-minute show into a clone of the other 150 newscasts he services around the country.

Inventor of the insipid three-day special investigative report every sweeps period, his idea of creative marketing is slapping a cheesy slogan on your news team. "Taking Action For You," "We're There for You," "Together Making a Difference" -- Thanks, but no thanks. I think I'll go it alone.

Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television and Theater at the University of Notre Dame.
- courtesy Grahme Newell

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