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Heymatt: There must be at least 20 hours of local TV news programs M-F in San Diego and almost nothing happens here. The same non-news stories are repeated over & over mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights. Wow, a water main broke. Wow, somebody saw a shark. Wow, somebody got lost in the desert. No disrespect, but Wow, somebody committed suicide and that is breaking news for a week or two. Or months. Is this the norm for every city? I’ve checked the background of many of our newscasters and they have respectable records. But anybody and their dog could be a newscaster/reporter in this dull town. Corruption would be a hot topic but nobody seems interested in that, with a few exceptions. At least Azteca news has see-through glass tables & we can see the women’s legs. I can’t understand much Spanish but I know what I like to see. — Mungo the Perv

You’re adorable, Mungo, and you’re also easily bored, with a short attention span. Filling hours of daily local-news time does affect what a station considers “news.” First, a few generalities. According to a 2010 Pew Research survey, more than half the U.S. population relies on local newscasts as their daily news source. Second, a long time ago, yours truly was at a seminar with a local news reporter talking about his station expanding its nightly news from a half-hour to one hour. I asked him the same question you asked me. There’s not an hour’s worth of news here every day, he said, but if a station doesn’t have a one-hour newscast, it’s not “taken seriously.” All the big boys have full-hour shows. And the king of all generalities: Surveys say, local news can generate as much as 44 percent of a station’s income. All of the commercial time in that hour is bought from the local station, and the money goes to the station — not true of network programming. So how to separate all that advertising? Hmmm, where have I heard that before?

Let’s think of reporters and anchors not as newsfolk but as storytellers. That’s really what they are; it’s just that a lot of the stories they tell are pretty awful or very dull. We’ll take your example of frustration with an endless local suicide story — the woman in the Scripps mansion on Coronado, I assume. Mungo, every newshound knew that story had more legs than Dancing with the Stars. Day one we hear a woman was found hanged at the Scripps mansion owned by some big-shot rich guy. Cops are saying nothing; no visuals except the usual police tape and officers hanging around the medical examiner’s van. More! We viewers want more! Day two, chapter two of the tale. Today we find out who she is and who the big-shot is and that he’s not been seen and that his son has just died at Children’s Hospital from a mysterious fall. More! Now we must have more! Cops silent, reporters have to nose around on their own to flesh out this compelling skeleton. Day three, day four, day five — each day we get some new piece to the thriller. They are giving us “new news” each day, by any definition. We won’t be happy until the anchors all can say, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Yeah, there are times when many of us are tired of hearing about a story every night. Some of this might be because often day two of a local story consists of anchor or reporter reading a new script over yesterday’s expensively shot visuals. We’re thinking, Huh, this looks familiar. Am I bored yet? But from the newsies’ point of view, there’s a new piece to add to yesterday’s story, if only a victim’s name, so it’s still fair game for separating the commercials. Personally, if I never see another minute of the Dolly Parton Nuclear Power Plant B-roll, I’ll be just as happy. But as boring as the story looks and sounds, it’s important ongoing information for those of us downwind.

Not enough investigative stuff? There is some. It’s expensive, difficult, takes many weeks, months. And there’s always the Reader as the canary in that particular coal mine. In our effort to rake the local muck, we are now on the “don’t talk to” list of various city departments. Not that TV is wimpy. They just choose their battles carefully.

Mungo, be grateful you don’t live in one of the tinier TV markets, where competing lower-viewership stations (Fox and CW, for example) in the same city save lots of money with formal agreements that allow one reporter to shoot, write, and narrate a single story (or several stories a day!) and eventually broadcast the package on both stations. According to a recent New York Times article, 83 of the U.S.’s 210 TV markets have such contracts or complicated variants. The NYT suggests this is a creeping trend. Denver has them. Please stand. Hats off. A moment of silence for real news.

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Comments

BobDorn June 13, 2012 @ 9:46 a.m.

Thank you Matthew and Mungo for opening up this cavern of sorrows. You both probably know that everything from travel to education to legislation to journalism have become commodities in a capitalized world. When efficiency experts look at a newsroom they see 10 or 25 percent cuts of staff, and that's when the dolphin stories start appearing. (At the old Evening Tribune we joked about the staff seagull that on slow news days always made a full-color front-page appearance on page one.) The mistakes and crimes committed by powerful evildoers are many, and are the sorts of stories news organizations have got to pursue if this world of ours is to make sense again. But because the evidence is hidden or deleted and witnesses are paid money to button their lips and armies of p.r. people and lobbyists are deployed to patch holes in the corporate armor or write loopholes into law the reporting gets too expensive for the profit-minded and in fact threatens their incomes. The news ain't free in a money-driven society, tragically.

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Matthew_Alice June 13, 2012 @ noon

Amen, Bob. One of my pet peeves is when a local network affiliate airs a story that features some aspect of a big upcoming show the network wants to promote. (An interview with the star, f'rinstance.) The story's produced by the net, then sent down to the local station. You'll see it on all local affiliates for that network, coast to coast. That's pure promotion masquerading as news, and it is considered the best kind of advertising because it doesn't look like advertising and people are more likely to pay attention to it. Grrrrrr.

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JoeyHamm June 13, 2012 @ 1:54 p.m.

This report nails it. But, travel the country and watch the local news from your hotel. It's not pretty like it is here. The folks that read the news here, old and young, are much more watchable than just about anywhere else, even in the biggest markets. And the content is very similar. Crazy murders, lots of community news and sports. It all pretty much sucks unless your child is featured on the 6 p.m. sports segment or there is something specific you want to know about. It does annoy me hear the 619 weatherheads whine about the constant perfect-to-a-little-cool weather. Travel and watch local weathercasts, you will see a much-less pretty picture. --jh

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Matthew_Alice June 13, 2012 @ 7:54 p.m.

Yup. The weatherbeing in, say, Mpls-StPaul does a lot of heavy lifting. Winter: ice, blizzards; Spring: floods, big floods; Summer/Fall: thunderstorms, tornadoes. Tho you're right, SD news has much better production values and eye-pleasing anchors. Noticed KNSD's bombshell weatherlady? Actually, I think she's Canadian, which means she's also very nice, eh?

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Ken Harrison June 19, 2012 @ 11:04 p.m.

I think it says it all when the morning "news anchors" have to toss to another person at a "news" desk at the top and bottom of each hour. I ask myself, what the hell have you two been talking about for the last 1/2 hour. But credit needs to go to KUSI, San Diego6, and Fox 5, for programming a local news show in the AM for 4+ hours. KGTV, KFMB, and KNSD all go to network at 7am. And the non-network morning shows seem to have more live crews in the field that the 3 affiliates.

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