I swear (by the moon and the stars and the sky)…
When I was my daughter’s age, I was already well into a habit of watching Omaha’s nightly newscasts — both at 5 and 10 pm. I know. Color me weird. Most of you already have.
I don’t get much of a chance to watch TV newscasts anymore, largely because the screen is programmed now to feed me a steady diet of Disney and Nickelodeon. The equivalent of baby food for an adult brain (watch the train go down the tunnel…mmmm yummy). Gag me.
If there is any leftover time, that is now typically reserved for the Royals broadcast (I’m still trying to figure out how to get MASN to show up on my Dish package…not that I’d have an extra hour to watch…).
Anyways, my schedule gave me two chances to watch – and pay attention to — network news for the first time in a long time last week.
I’m not impressed.
The main reason is the reporting. It’s in your face, especially with the reporter stand-ups. It’s breathless. It’s reaction-based and reporter-centered, not topic-centric. And the reports I saw had almost nothing of substance about the actual subject matter.
Look. I’ve been in this business now for 20 years. Even with the luxury of a newscast that can approach 20 minutes rather than 90 seconds, as was the case in Lincoln, I have to leave a lot of important information out of my respective stories. I have to pick and choose what I’ll highlight, de-emphasize or omit. Sometimes the story matter makes that choice for me and sometimes it’s a very difficult decision.
The first local broadcaster I remember relying on delivery rather than substance was John Mooney, a reporter-anchor at KETV. I forget whether his tenure was in the late 1980s or early 1990s. All I know is his approach didn’t last long — maybe two years at the most before he disappeared. At the time, I figured his style, something akin to Dan Rather on stimulants, would never return. Turns out Mooney was about 20 years ahead of his time.
Call me stuck in the past. Call me crotchety. Heck — call me wrong on this. But I think the stand-ups, intended or not, now largely both excite and inflame viewers and detract from what the reporter is supposed to be letting you know about. You could also make a point today’s TV reporting style allows for biases to come out as fact in a much less subtle way than was allowed even a decade ago. I wouldn’t argue that after what I saw last week.
Put it to you this way: something is wrong when ESPN reporters put together their on-scene reports with more gravitas than their network news counterparts. If you don’t believe me, watch a network newscast and concentrate on the reporter stand-ups. Then watch an ESPN SportsCenter with the same emphasis. It’s not. Even. Close.
I know I’ve been breathless at times during my reporting. Some of that is I have never been able to slow my delivery down past a certain point without sounding in my head that I’m talking through molasses (and some of that deals with trying to bounce from on-air responsibilities to writing as much as I can for upcoming newscasts — or I’m trying to get as much information from my brain to your ears in as short a time period as possible before you either lose interest or get distracted…or my train of thought derails). Some of that is, well, I’m fat and out of shape.
When I started in broadcasting, one of the things my dad told me was to basically deliver the news straight. Use inflection so each story doesn’t sound the same but keep the emotion to a minimum because it it doesn’t add to the story. I’ve tweaked that approach to purposefully add some emotion in some of my human interest stories (and I’ve tried to eliminate as much as I can from the political stories that just drive me nuts), but Dad’s basic philosophy still drives me. It’s not exactly Dragnet — “just the facts” — but it’s close: concentrate on what happened and how this will affect anybody tuned in — and then let listeners make any specific decision for themselves that they need to make. Today’s journalistic direction essentially phases out my approach.
The one thing I hope is my delivery speed and inflection style doesn’t reduce the seriousness of what I’m reporting or lead people to a decision. This is one area where I’d really rather not be considered part of the new wave of journalism. They say things happen in cycles, and I’m hoping the pendulum swings back to a more moderate, more reasoned approach at some point down the road.