Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

TV news

I am often either amused or irritated by television news reporters these days. Not that they aren't often otherwise nice folk, friendly, helpful, and all that. But I hadn't realized how much time we who watch television news spend being informed by the uninformed.

It startled me at first how arrogant television news crews seemed. When they showed up to the same event we print journalists were covering, they shouldered their way in, just assuming that they deserved primacy of place, regardless of whether they were there first or not.

Then I began to see that they were just taking what people gave them -- people were far more impressed by being interviewed with a camera than a notebook. If they were going to seek out coverage for their event, they thought it a much bigger deal to have the television crew there than someone from a newspaper.

And yet, for all of the attention, my observation is that the television news crews, at least locally, really know very little about what is going on. Now maybe, down in New Hanover County, where they're actually located, they're local experts. But out here in the rural areas that are still in their broadcasting area, when they come to cover something, they seem so uninformed. Now, it's not all the fault of the people who show up -- I think it starts much higher than that.

Monday (after the near altercation between the print journalist and the camera guy, who, to be fair, was there first this time), a news crew came in late. The reporter lady pulled me aside during a break. She explained that she had been handed the story 15 minutes before the meeting started (it's probably a 45 minute drive from her studio). She apparently had some notes from whoever was supposed to cover it, and she had one of my newspaper articles on the issue (I think I'd written three by then -- if you only had one, you were missing a good chunk of what had happened.)

She only got there in time for the second of two votes on the matter, and didn't understand that they were voting to "rescind" the bill rather than "resend" the bill. Between that brief chat and a phone call (in which she expressed the irony that she, a TV journalist, was getting information from me, a print journalist), I tried to fill her in a little and tell her where she could get the information to find out the rest. I meant to watch the evening news to see what she ended up with.

But really, there was no way that she could reasonably be expected to walk into the meeting knowing what was going on and hardly any way she could follow the meeting without that knowledge. I don't know how in less than a day she could find out all of the relevant facts and history of the situation. And there's no way that in a 45-second video clip, or probably even several minutes, she could explain the whole situation to someone who didn't understand it. Putting that on her is bound to lead to gross over-simplification or simple inaccuracies. And she might not even realize she's over-simplifying or being inaccurate.

This makes me wonder just how much of the news we get from television is produced like that -- put on the air by someone who hasn't been following a situation, may not understand it, and doesn't even have a fair chance of explaining it. Ironically, her broadcast was likely watched by far more people than have actually read accurate depictions of the events leading up to the meeting -- depictions, accompanied by good explanation, that have appeared in all three county newspapers. (The Star News in Wilmington has really dropped the ball on this, I think -- but that's no surprise to those of us who live in Pender County. Their Pender reporter seems both nice and intelligent, but she's even newer than I am, and the paper has historically done a terrible job of covering this county.)


At 2:15 PM, Blogger Mediocre Minister's Wife said...

I love your blog on the TV news crews. I was the Managing Editor of The Jones Post and I spent countless hours at important meetings going on throughout the county. I was always irked at how some cute news reporter would breeze into the meeting, spend 10 minutes, get a sound bite and some video, then leave. THEN, they would use my article, sometimes verbatim, and report the news the next day on TV! The public needs to know how clueless these people really are that are bringing them the "news". They plagurize from the print journalists who put their blood, sweat and tears into the story!
Thanks for letting me get this off my chest and keep up the good work!
Karen Welsh

At 10:09 PM, Blogger Minister said...

Hey, I've got nothing against them being cute -- they can't help that! *grins*

But you're right, and thanks for backing me up on this one. And like I said in the post, I don't think it's all the on-the-spot reporter's fault; it starts with the very concept of the medium. It's so up-to-the-minute that the average reporter just doesn't have the minutes, hours, and days it takes to really grasp some issues.

But don't even get me started on the grabbing, practically word-for-word, pieces of articles! *grins again* They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Of course, when you're selling it, I think they also call it copyright violation.


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