Let me preface this by saying (a) I used to work in local television, and (b) I have friends who are or have been part of the industry, so I don’t really blame the on-screen talent or even some of the people behind the scenes.
I hate local newscasts.
I still record one newscast a day, and skim it about 75% of the time, usually during dinner. I’ve chosen the least objectionable local newscast, which for me is KFDM, but it’s still pretty terrible.
The reason I hate local news is that it could be so much better. As in, it could be a true force for good and change in our communities, rather than being the mostly-useless filler between advertisements that it is today.
In the interest of time, I’ve whittled my many grievances down to ten of the top reasons I hate local news, in no particular order.
1. Local Sports
Sports takes up almost half of the average local newscast, and then half of that is wasted regurgitating scores for national and state games that anyone with an Internet connection who gives a shit already knows.
Then, what passes for local coverage is a mindless droning of scores, with the occasional inane interview with a local coach or athlete that is completely interchangeable with any other interview (“we’re just gonna go out there and have teamwork and try our hardest blah blah blah…”).
I’ll admit I’m not a fan of taxpayer-sponsored
religion school sports in the first place, but if you’re going to cover it, cover it!
Take just one or two of the 20 hours of live local news programming each week and create a dedicated show for local sports. Show recaps of local games. Go over the schedules. Talk about the athletes. Cover the little-league and soccer teams. Also, extend coverage to also include other intramural competitions — debate, theater, band, chess, robotics, spelling, math, etc., showing local children that throwing a ball around is not the only way to be recognized on local TV.
Everyone has a smart phone now. We’re all two clicks away from a 10-day forecast that generally beats the local guy’s predictions, and it doesn’t come with the 10-minute lecture about high- and low-pressure systems or the gleeful watching of every storm cloud in the Gulf of Mexico that could, with enough butterfly-flaps, transform into a hurricane in a few weeks.
So unless there’s a tornado coming, just show some pretty infographics with sunrise, sunset, forecast, and the boring stuff only people with boats care about, then go away.
If you want to jazz it up, show us something interesting happening in astronomy, or help shed some light on climate change for the 30% of Americans who still believe it’s a liberal conspiracy to take away their incandescent lights and gas-guzzling duallies.
3. Pre-Packaged News
You aren’t fooling us with that “Tech Time” and “Healthcare Watch” and “Market Minute” and other bullshit content (including lead-in copy) that you bought to fill the time. These pieces are the true bottom of the barrel of journalism, with their third-rate analysis, copy ripped straight from press releases, and the intellectual depth of the average Kardassian. I watch the local news for local news, not so I can hear Sally the Generic Reporter tell me that that evil hackers want to steal my credit card and I’d better protect myself by using a good password and buying an antivirus program.
4. Biased National Politics
Poll questions obviously written by a drunk Tea Party activist. News copy ripped straight from the GOP daily talking points. Gushing coverage of Republican candidates who come to town. Lack of even the most basic fact-checking when reporting what a politician says. Those of us who don’t get our national news only from local sources are on to you, and that includes the majority of Millennials, including conservative ones who can still smell one-sided BS. I suppose pandering to the old white audience is what sells more truck commercials, but the bias is obvious, and it stinks.
5. Social Media Comments
If I wanted to attend a virtual KKK rally, I already have an Internet connection and I can go look at the ignorance and knee-jerk hatred spewing from the comment section of every article on your Facebook page. Repeating that shit on the air, especially without any sort of critical analysis, just adds fuel to the flame.
6. We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties
It’s disappointingly rare to watch an entire live newscast without seeing some stupid technical snafu — dead mics, missing audio, mistimed B-roll, swapped graphics, poor lighting, misspelled crawls, drifting camera shots, reporters staring at their notes unaware that they’re live — the list goes on. Seriously, people, get your shit together! I’ve seen better production values at an elementary school musical.
(Ok, the video isn’t exactly on-point, but it’s still funny… I’m actually far mor forgiving of people flubbing their lines…)
Yes, we the audience do notice that the people you to interview or book as “experts” just happen to be associated with the companies who advertise heavily on your station. We also notice when news that happens to be bad for local industry comes along, it gets glossed over, or only told from the industry’s perspective.
8. Quantity over Quality
Many network stations are churning out three or more hours of live local programming per day in newscasts and morning/afternoon shows. Worse, since so many stations are owned by the same media conglomerates, the same news program gets thrown out on multiple channels, or they share the same news desk.
The reason is obvious — stations believe they can make more in ad revenue with three hours of shite than 30 minutes of hard news by journalists who have the time to research their stories and produce compelling stories.
Maybe they’re right, and it’s more important simply to capture bored eyeballs immediately before and after the workday than it is to create a show people would actually make plans to watch. After all, the 24-hour news channels have the same approach — continuous, uncritical repetition of opinion, propaganda, and speculation rather than focused, critical journalism. Still, it’s sad.
9. Horrendous Web Sites
Seriously, folks, they are SO BAD. Horrific. Slow, ad-laden, broken, lacking in aesthetics, mobile-unfriendly, Flash-driven, content-sparse, disorganized, … I could go on.
I suspect the design templates and back-end programming are mandated by the media conglomerate bosses (who probably outsourced some Elbonian programmers to hack around on some “content management system” sold to them by a guy in a slick suit). So it’s not all the local station’s fault. But that doesn’t make the user experience any better for the local viewer, and it devalues the station’s brand on the very platform that will eventually replace the time-slot broadcast news they depend on for so much ad revenue.
National newspaper sites aren’t much better. It’s like all the people who knew a damned thing about typography, photography, white space, etc. were fired when pixels replaced paper, and they haven’t realized yet that their web sites look worse than a mimeographed church newsletter from the 1980s. Hell, you’re reading this post right now on the free standard WordPress template, and it looks cleaner and more professional than 90% of the major news sites.
Local television stations need to recognize that the Internet isn’t going away, and that their only long-term hope is to capture a younger audience who live online, don’t subscribe to cable, don’t have a UHF antenna, and who won’t put up for slow pages, broken links, pop-up ads, and designs that make their eyes bleed.
http://www.kfdm.com/ (Edit: They redesigned their web site in early 2016, it looks MUCH better now!)
The last link is the local newspaper… they’re just as bad.
10. Little Proactive Reporting
All too often, I hear people in Beaumont say about some local event with a poor turn-out, “I wish I had known about it!” Same goes for interesting items that were on the agenda at city council or school board meetings, debates between local politicians, etc.
One of the things the Internet doesn’t do well these days is to connect nonprofits, schools, governments, churches, etc. with their local communities so they can promote their events to the public. Facebook actively works against such promotion, unless the organization in question wants to the extortion fees to “advertise” to their own fans.
Local news generally fails to actively engage with local NPOs to promote public events and opportunities before they happen. Sure, a few chosen favorites like YMBL and Gift of Life get pre-coverage of their events, but it’s nearly impossible for, say, a nonprofit art gallery to get a little story about a local artist’s show opening, or a children’s program or fundraiser. Likewise, coverage of basic election information, such as poll locations and interviews with people on the ballot, is dismally thin.
I have no doubt that if the local newscast included a stronger focus on letting people know what’s going to happen in their communities, people would tune in more often. I don’t really need to know about every car crash, house fire, and storm-felled tree, but I would like to know when things are happening that I might want to get involved in, not just see reports about them after the fact.
Wrapping It Up
I hate on local news not because it is simply so bad, but because I see what it could be if only station leadership (and their corporate overlords) had the vision to do more than crank out the same thing, over and over. I hope some of them recognize and address these issues before it’s too late and local newsrooms go the way of the dodo.