An interesting story in the Columbia Journalism Review about local TV news and they chose to come right into FTVLive's backyard to watch it. Which is awesome, since we haven't watched a full local TV newscast in over 3 years. I'm glad someone else watched the news, so I don't have to.
CJR writes that approximately 43,000 households are tuned into Channel 4’s (WJXT) 5 pm newscast on the last day of February. The first thing they see is a segment about a 26-year-old woman who filmed—and posted to Twitter—a video of herself fellating somebody in a courthouse as she awaited arraignment on a drug charge. “HAD SO MUCH FUN IN COURT TODAY. FOUND A WAY TO GET MY CHARGES DROPPED,” she wrote. This chain of events is familiar to loyal viewers, as the Florida station has been covering it for three weeks.
I’m watching the segment with Bob Longo, the news director at rival station Action News Jax (WJAX). Longo is a smallish (Ouch!), kinetic man who established himself at television stations in upstate New York and Pittsburgh. He was hired three years ago to help lowly Action News compete with Channel 4, the longtime local ratings leader. He delights in his competitor’s bottom-feeding story-selection.
“They’re leading with the story we opted out on today,” he says, pointing at one of 13 televisions in his office. A woman in a scarlet dress appears on the screen. “This is the girl who blew that guy in the courthouse.” Channel 4’s camera, he adds, is out of focus. In my head I am congratulating Longo for abstaining from on-air prurience when he concedes that he, too, has aired segments about fellategate. “Yeah, so, we did the story originally because you know, ‘Hey, did this really go on? Where’s security? How did this happen?’ But at this point, she’s a total idiot.” Instead, Longo leads his 5 pm newscast with stories about a fire, a man killed by his girlfriend’s brother, and a deadly shooting outside a concert by the Louisiana rapper Boosie Badazz.
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.