Local News: Willing Buyers/Willing Sellers

The reference to We Interrupt This Newscast and the quote being from @cjr, was enough to get me to read: Oy, the TRAFFIC. And it’s POURING! Do I hear SIRENS? by Simon Van Zuylen-Wood.

First things first, We Interrupt This Newscast: How to Improve Local News and Win Ratings, Too, mentioned without linking by Zuylen-Wood, can be found at: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/939668347 (link is to WorldCat which will display copies held at libraries close to you).

Second, Zuylen-Wood’s definition of the “problem” of local TV news:


Local TV news has a problem. Broadcasts are dominated by sensationalistic crime stories, weather reports, and human-interest puff pieces. The format—two plasticky news anchors reading from teleprompters—has not meaningfully changed in 40 years. The end product tends to be irrelevant journalism packaged in an increasingly irrelevant way. The problem isn’t that the product is partisan or under-resourced or “fake.” The problem is that it’s lame.

isn’t shared by local TV news directors:


“You’d be hard-pressed to find a news director who isn’t saying we need to be [innovating],” Bob Papper says. And yet, none of them really is. “The biggest hindrance to innovation,” he continues, “is the success of TV news. The fact is, it’s doing well, and if anything it may be doing better and better. That’s not an impetus to change.”

Zuylen-Woods’ definition is not shared by local TV news viewers, who lap up stories of random, non-repeatable events. Generally speaking people are murdered only once, photogenic teenagers die in automobile accidents only once, tree limbs turn toddlers into life long medical cases only occassionally, although TV news does milk those stories for weeks, months, even years.

Zuylen-Woods is right, local TV news is “lame,” but it’s a product tailored to the taste of willing customers.

If “willing customers” are buying “irrelevant journalism” (Zuylen-Woods’ term), I don’t see the obligation of the media to create products, one assumes “relevant journalism,” for which there is no market.

If you do, is it because you are a better judge of what the public should be reading, viewing, discussing?

Careful.

Beginning with Plato, if not earlier, prescribing better, more appropriate content for others, censorship, has an unhappy history.

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