August 2009 Archives

Clones, Pies, and Other Things that Make the News

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                There are times when our criticizing of the news' tendencies towards sensationalism is akin to a heroin addict criticizing his dealer's tendencies towards pushing illegal substances.  I am as guilty as the next person, and this knowledge was cemented into my mind when I listened to the audio clip describing worthy news.  Obviously, if there is a one-person car crash, I don't necessarily want the news to spend ten minutes on that coverage, especially, and this is the sad, but honest truth of human nature, if I don't know the person involved.  Now, if someone "important" is involved in the crash... We who rally for equal news coverage are somewhat silenced by the fact that there is a distinguishing line between who matters and who doesn't.  Those who don't matter probably won't make the news.  An elderly lady's house is robbed?  It may make the news, depending on the night.  A senator's house is robbed.  That's news.  A clone of a senator is baking a pie...

Stop Talking and Tell Us Something

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Stop Talking and Tell Us Something

"5.  Don't waste so much time with pretentious chit-chat between your anchors" (Byron, What You Can Do to Make TV News Better).

            Out of all the advice given in this particular article, number five was the gem that made me think, "Thank-you, Byron" and say a fervent prayer that the wisdom would be heeded to whatever news god happened to be tuning in at the moment.  How many times do we have to watch anchors make painful conversation amongst themselves?  I personally don't care if the anchors are having fun at work or not, just as I suppose the anchors are unconcerned with whether or not I'm enjoying myself at my job.  In fact, such painful talk as "George, aren't you going to do anything about that rain?" followed by, "Why, yes I am, Sally.  I'm going to buy a new umbrella" (amused chuckles from both anchors) does nothing for my news enthusiasm.  It is conversations like the aforementioned that undoubtedly led Byron to state that anchors were actors more than journalists.  Of course, more often than not, "acting" is a generous term for what we see on the screen.  The most despicable part of all of this is that the little show of camaraderie between anchors takes up time for actual news.  If the newsrooms really want to "give the people what they want," then they need to have anchors talk to the viewers, not each other.   






"OK...Right...Whoa, what?"

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"Close reading essays about portions of a work should demonstrate how the passage is connected to the rest of the work" (Roberts 54).

Initially, this passage did not provoke an overly grateful response from me.   However, after I reflected on some of the things I've read in the past, I realized that this is actually great advice for writing a paper.  How many times has each of us been reading a book, and, regardless of whether we were enjoying the piece or not, come across a passage that seemed to make absolutely no sense.  We have been plucked from our narrative walk, tripped by this stumbling block of misplaced text.  "Why is that there?" we might ask ourselves, and by "there" we do not mean between those specific chapters or paragraphs, but in the book at all.  It's simple to shrug and just read on, hoping your professor was just as flummoxed about the passage as you were. (This is generally a vain hope.  If a passage earns a collective blank-stare response from the class, that's practically a guarantee it will be discussed.) 

Even if it is impossible to avoid that obscure bit of text in a discussion, that's still not incentive to actually write about it in a close reading assignment.  After all, this seemingly random section seems completely disconnected from the rest of the work.  Perhaps we could just assume that when the author wrote that particular part, he/she was in the midst of one of those nervous breakdowns writers are so fond of having.  But, really, the mere fact this passage seems disconnected is a perfect reason to try to connect it to everything else.  Chances are, one could even unlock another part of the theme by studying this specific portion of text.  Writers generally have a reason for each part of their story, and finding a reason for particularly confusing segments can actually provide an interesting topic for a paper.

Unanchored: Things that you never knew, because you didn't care to find out.

Byron's pieces may primarily serve as exposes, lamenting the degradation of news coverage, though I think that the "secrets" he was exposing were rather mild.  In the section "Polished, Cordial, and Believable," Byron states that some anchors "read the news better than they understand it."  My reaction to this was, so what?  Personally, when I sit down to watch the news, I want the anchor to tell me what's going on, to read the scrolling text, not explain possible political or economical ramifications of the event to me.  This "reading better than understanding" also seemed like a perfectly natural trait for a person to have.  After all, the anchor isn't given a half hour to mull over what he/she read; the reading has to be done for those of us not sitting behind an anchor's desk.

Much time in the article is also spent criticizing the amount of time an anchor spends on his/her appearance.  Again, this revelation was met with apathy.  If I were going to be on television, I would definitely approve of someone else taking the time to make sure I looked "professional, human, and unruffled."  Though Byron's point seemed to be that the anchor's are not as involved in the news as many are led to believe, again I say yawn.  Is it really that huge of a deceit if the anchors are not actually out in the trenches collecting news five minutes before they are to go on air?  Instead, it seems to me that the anchors are doing what they get paid for: bringing in viewers.  If that means they have to spend two hours on hair and make-up, then perhaps we should be complimenting them on their job choice instead of treating their grooming time as some sort of personal betrayal. 


Fire Pretty, News Bad

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Fire Pretty, News Bad

In Greg Byron's article "TV stations are completely ratings driven," Byron states that news stations are often concerned with flair over substance.  An old warehouse caught on fire will be covered more quickly and more completely than a prerecorded segment on healthcare.  Though, the abandoned building may have been in an isolated part of town, and the fire was contained, there's something about the sight of flames that draws in viewers as though they were moths. 

Of course, there is a part of each of us that must understand the ploys.  Reporters have to work, too.  If the people involved with the news want to continue to be involved with the news, they need to attract viewers.  If a consultant tells a news director that he/she will see a 10% increase in ratings if an inconsequential fire is covered and the healthcare segment is bumped, well, it just seems like good business.  Is there really that much of a problem?

If the practices were solely evolved around elevating the importance of seemingly insignificant topics, then no, probably not.

However, reporters are instructed to extract emotion from any source possible.  If this means exhorting witnesses or grieving families, so be it.  As Byron points out in his article, "Reporters want to capture emotions so badly, they completely forget any notion of allowing privacy or personal dignity to grieving victims or their families."  A clear example of this is the coverage of Michael Jackson's memorial.  Now, overall coverage for the event itself is not where the issue lies.  The problem arose when Michael Jackson's daughter, Paris, spoke, breaking down into tears in the midst of declaring her father the best in the world.  To everyone watching this would have probably just been seen as a touching moment.  However, clips of this occurrence were shown over and over again.  In a few days time, news anchors began to question whether or not Paris was asked by her family to create this spectacle, in hopes of swaying the judge in the custody battle.  For a week it was impossible to turn on the news without seeing a clip a girl crying at her father's funeral.

When the news begins to value rating over respect, the increase in viewership is simultaneous with the decrease in humanity.