Why young people don’t watch local news

What follows is a memo written by a young friend of mine to a TV station. The station and the community shall remain anonymous. My friend got rid of her TV five years ago, so this was her first experience watching local news in a half a decade. It’s vulgar and sarcastic, so enter at your own risk. It is, however, truthful — from an intelligent young viewer’s perspective, and it reflects many of the concerns expressed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch informal study.

MEMO TO CHANNEL XX

TO: the powers that be at XXXX-TV, Channel XX
FROM: a former viewer
DATE: Thursday, July 1st, 2004
RE: honest feedback (put on your helmet before reading further)

Dear Channel XX,

I used to watch your newscasts every day. But I haven’t been a viewer in a looooong time. Tonight, I watched for the first time in well over five years.

Why? What happened? Was it that great tease you did at 9:53? Did I see your truck around town? What happened that made me tune in to have you come down from on high and inform me about life?

Don’t get all excited. It had nothing to do with you. I was babysitting. The child was asleep. I finished the novel I was reading and looked up to see that it was one minute to 10PM. The mother was due back at 10:30, and I thought — why not watch the news? See if it sucks as much as it did five years ago when I bartered away my television set and vowed never to own another one?

You don’t suck as much as you did five years ago. You suck so much worse that it’s pitiful and laughable.

What follows is a description of my experience in watching your newscast tonight. This is an honest report from a consumer in that magical demographic of 18 to 34.

You opened the news making stupid faces at me. Doing the news is not performing in the theatre; I don’t need to see how much you can contort your facial muscles in order to get your point across. Just STOP.

Then you went straight to weather. You said, “like usual, we have a slight chance of showers…” and went on to tell me that it was hot, muggy, and wet, had been for days, and would continue to be. But no, that’s not *exactly* what you said. You phrased it like this: “there’s a slight threat of thunderstorms…” Now why would you do that? You like that word “threat,” don’t you? If there’s a threat, and you’re telling me about it, you must be on my side, huh? My protector. My defender. YOU inform me of the THREAT. Whatever would I do without you?

Then, for about six minutes, you went through a series of stories at the speed of lightning. I took notes with a crayon on a sheet of notebook paper (my charge and I had been practicing writing her name).

Two people were arrested for a murder. Great. Thanks for letting me know. That was fine. But wait!! You had to — for whatever reason, God knows why — tell me that today was one of the suspect’s birthday. And it wasn’t a good birthday for him. Why, the poor, pitiful baby! They should have waited until tomorrow to arrest him, huh? What? That’s not what you meant? Well, what *did* you mean? Do YOU even know?

A third suspect is sought in that same murder. OK. That’s good to know. You told me that he was to be considered armed and dangerous. I appreciate that. Thanks. Now, why did you leave his picture on screen for only three seconds? If you were interested in enabling me to recognize the turkey if I saw him, you should have had his picture up there the whole time. That was just annoying. OH — I get it — when you mentioned your website, that’s what I should have done! Gone to your website to look at your pop-up ads and get a good look at this suspect, right? You kept three separate phone numbers for three separate police officers up for ten times longer. I bet that if I saw the guy and called 911, they could locate the cops for me. Just a thought. IF I recognized him — which you weren’t concerned with at all, were you?

Moving right along, you told me that it’s a holiday weekend. Thanks. I didn’t know that. Without you to inform me, I would never have known that Sunday is Independence Day. Then you told me not to drink and drive, because it’s dangerous, and it might land me in jail. Whew! Thanks again! But just in case I do plan to drink and drive, you told me where the police checkpoints will be. That way, if I want to drink and drive, I can use the information you supplied me with to avoid being caught and held accountable for my crimes. WHY would you tell me that? Do you think it puts you in a favorable light with me to know that drunks can tune in and you’ll help them evade justice by telling them what intersections to avoid when they get plastered? For the love of God!

In a neighboring community, a public official was charged with gross corruption. Your anchor read some bullshit about it. THAT was important! I actually wanted to know about that! Is there evidence? Why didn’t you have a reporter in the community who had done some legwork telling me about it? You started that segment off, “From our ***** bureau,” but it most certainly was NOT. It was just your anchor reading the fucking teleprompter. For crying out loud!

After giving about ten seconds to Saddam Hussein’s appearance in an Iraqi court — after all, it’s only one of the most major, important, and historically relevant consequences of the war our country is currently fighting, and hardly worth context or in-depth reporting — you did what? YOU WENT BACK TO WEATHER and went on to tell me that it was hot, muggy, and wet, had been for days, and would continue to be. Now, I heard the weather report LESS THAN SEVEN MINUTES AGO. Perhaps your anchors are developmentally delayed to the point where they forget the weather that quickly. I don’t! I am a native speaker of English, and I understood it the first time. You gave me the forecast for the next three days. Then your weather geek said, “And on Monday.…stay tuned! We’ll give you Monday’s weather in our next weather segment…”

I used such a tactic when babysitting, just a few hours before I watched your newscast. I read my charge half of a book and promised to read her the rest after she changed into her Pull-ups and nightshirt. It was manipulative, but it worked — it kept her focused on getting ready for bedtime. Then I rewarded her with the end of her story.

NEWS FLASH! I am not a three year old child! Tell me the weather or don’t tell me the weather, but that business of telling me part of the forecast and then teasing — if you want to know what it’s like on Monday, stay tuned… is MANIPULATIVE BULLSHIT.

It was at that point that I realized what I was doing by subjecting myself to your bullshit.

Your newscast was like a booster shot, you see. When you don’t want to catch a disease, what do you do? You get immunized. What’s an immunization? It’s a very small dose, isn’t it?

Five years after I gave up television, I watched your newscast just once — and it was a booster shot. Thank you. I am more certain than ever to never, ever, ever, ever make television part of my home or my life, and ESPECIALLY not TV news!

After that stupid weather tease came the point where I went from anger to disgust. You spent more time and went into much more detail about a story designed to do nothing but emotionally manipulate me than you did on the legitimate story of Hussein’s being brought to justice by his own victims in his own country or ANY local story.

Yes, I’m talking about the dogs. Your anchor went on and on about the deep, bloody wounds and horrific injuries to the dogs so viciously abused by their owner in Oregon. I love animals, and I am sorry that they were abused. But why did you tell me this? From looking at your anchor’s face, which was full of overly dramatic expressions, and listening to her voice, filled with pseudo-concern for the poor animals, I got the impression that you were trying to tell me that you’re a compassionate station. You disapprove of the animal abuse. Well, I’ll sleep better tonight. Your station’s level of compassion toward abused animals was the main issue in my life, and now it’s settled. Thanks.

From there we went to the girl in California whose cell phone exploded. The lurid descriptions of her buttocks on fire from the explosion, the pictures of the exploded phone, and the fact that an onlooker put the fire out by throwing water on her — those all made for sensational copy, but WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME WHY HER PHONE EXPLODED? WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MY LIFE, WHERE I AND EVERYONE ELSE I KNOW HAS A CELL PHONE? I AM SORRY FOR THE KID AND HOPE THAT SHE’LL BE OKAY, BUT I DIDN’T NEED TO HEAR ABOUT SOME STRANGER THROWING WATER ON HER ASS TO PUT OUT THE FIRE. IT SERVES NO PURPOSE FOR THE COMMUNITY YOU PURPORT TO SERVE UNLESS YOU TELL ME WHY IT HAPPENED AND HOW I CAN KEEP MY OWN PHONE FROM EXPLODING. DUUUUUH!!!!

Then you told me about the boy whose dog was stolen and then returned, again in California. That was nice. I’m glad the dog is back home. But you know what? I happen to know that there have been multiple acts of kindness in our city in the last week. Why didn’t you cover one of them? Were you too busy practicing how to get six upsetting adjectives about animal abuse into one story?

From there we went on to learn about Bill Cosby’s “harsh words” for the African-American community about how they raise their kids and the music they listen to. HELLO! WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN? I’ve read about this story on the blogs of people who were there, I’ve debated the meaning of it on political discussion boards, and I’ve read about ten separate accounts of the fallout of his words — all on the internet. WEEKS AGO. Next you’re going to tell me that the computers all survived Y2K, aren’t you? SHEEEEEEEEESH.

Next you spent time — again, longer than you did on the Hussein story — showing me birds swooping down to attack people, as if in a Hitchcock movie. Then I was subjected to the fake, phony laughter of you turkeys behind your anchor desk saying it was “amazing.” Gag me.

Then came what may have been the most insulting part of the night. You informed me that FIREWORKS ARE DANGEROUS. I didn’t know that! I’m glad you told me — I had given my 3‑year-old charge a bunch of them to take to bed with her teddy bears, but since you told me, I took them away! JESUS!! But okay, fine. You felt you had to tell me. Did you at least offer me something useful? Perhaps a tip on how to tell whether a burn needs to be treated by a doctor? NO! Just more fearmongering, doom and gloom statistics. I don’t care that fireworks started 24,000 fires in 2002. Thanks for wasting four seconds of my life.

Then, after insulting my intelligence over the fireworks, you gave me some car tips for my summer driving. Things like, “check fluid levels and tire pressure before taking a long trip.” I HAVE BEEN DRIVING FOR WELL OVER A DECADE. If you want to teach Driver’s Education, go teach it! Get off TV! Shit! That was bad enough, but you felt the need to interview a local mechanic? And put the name of his shop onscreen — in case I missed it on his shirt? Christ, if you’re giving away commercials, let’s give it to something more useful and less well-known than a tire shop, huh?

JUST IN CASE I MISSED IT THE FIRST TIMETWELVE MINUTES AGOOR THE SECOND TIME, FIVE MINUTES AGOTHEN YOU TOLD ME THE FUCKING WEATHER REPORT.….…. AGAIN!!!!

All together now: it’s hot, muggy, and wet, has been for days, and will continue to be. I HEARD YOU THE FIRST AND SECOND TIMES!!! Oh, and the big tease about Monday? MORE OF THE SAME!!! Slight threat of thunderstorms — same as Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!!

Continuing on.…

Your sports anchor is a jackass. He was okay when he told me how the local baseball team was doing, but then he had to get started on the LA Lakers hiring Coach K story and tell me that they were quote unquote very interested. And he actually said that! “QUOTE, UNQUOTE!” And made fucking quote marks with his fingers!! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

The irony of the evening — the moment that made me laugh so hard I almost woke up my babysitting charge — came after sports. No, I was not laughing WITH you. I was laughing AT you — at the irony you failed to see.

You spent more of my valuable time telling me about a hot-dog eating contest. Of course, it was a fat white guy and a thin, attractive minority female. You told me that she weighs 98 pounds, and then the four of you bantered about how likely she is to win. “SHE ALWAYS WINS,” you said. “EVERY YEAR!” Then you went on to tell me about how she stretches her stomach out in training by eating a lot of hot dogs before the contest. YOU LAUGHED. “SHE ALWAYS WINSWE SEE THIS SAME STORY *EVERY SINGLE* YEAR!”

JEEEEEEEEEEEEEZ, would you listen to yourselves? EVERY YEAR! It’s been five years since I watched you, and even I knew every detail of this story. WE AAAAALLL HEAR IT EVERY YEAR! IT’S SO OLD, STUPID, AND CLICHED THAT YOU CAN’T EVEN TELL IT WITHOUT COMMENTING ON HOW IT’S THE SAME FUCKING STORY EVERY YEAR. WE’RE SICK OF IT, TOO, YOU SANCTIMONIOUS PRICKS!!

By this time, I was partially lulled into stupefaction, just to see how inane you could be for the last five minutes. You covered the Clinton book — a book that I’ve been reading about on the internet for months and learning about the Washington fallout from in blogs for weeks now. Again, what rock have you been living under? But okay, fine, no big deal. Same with the story of the people getting the world record for playing the most fucking kazoos. I don’t care, but fine. Whatever.

Then, at the very end, you told me AGAIN that fireworks are dangerous, but you, wonderful caretaking nanny TV station that you are, have taken steps to protect pitiful little me from myself already. You said, “We here at channel XX have provided a safe way for you to enjoy fireworks…”

You were so focused on YOU and how YOU are protecting ME from the danger of fireworks that I missed it when you said where it’s going to be!

So, there you are. You want to know why no one my age (I’m mid-20’s) watches your station? You want to know why your core audience is in the collecting-social-security age bracket? This is why.

You are LIGHT-YEARS behind the internet, you provide no context, you spend all your time on stupid bullshit, you fearmonger, you manipulate, you ignore important stories, you waste my time telling me things I already know, you do those stupid bullshit manipulative teases to get me to watch weather reports 2 and 3 (which tell me exactly the same thing as the first weather report), and you are so full of yourselves that it never even occurs to you that a story so cliched and trite that YOU laugh and comment on how it’s the same every year is A COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF MY TIMEEVEN MORE SO THAN YOURS! YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU AT LEAST GET PAID FOR THIS SHIT!

Comments

  1. And the saddest part? The moment they read the opening paragraph they would have tossed the rest aside with “Oh, not one of our customer base, who cares what they think?”

    The arrogance of assuming the television news viewing sector is ever-refilling, that the internet offers no competition, is what is so stunning.

  2. A friend of mine was at my house the other day using my computer to read his email (he doesn’t have a computer, just uses mine when needed once or twice a week), so I went into my living room and turned on the TV during a news broadcast. I don’t recall what channel it was, and I know I haven’t watched a local broadcast in well over 3 or 4 years — quite possibly longer. I had the same reaction as the writer did — it was irrelevant. I can get more news in 30 minutes on the Web, including local, than I’ll ever get watching another broadcast, until and unless something changes.

  3. A few weeks ago I tried to do a pie chart of the 11pm news on our local station here. After subtracting out fifteen minutes of advertising, promotions via faux “news” about network prime time programs, weather, sports, and silly nonlocal filler, we had a whopping total of about four minutes of actual news.

    My methods weren’t rigorous, and I’m sure I was wrong on some of the numbers; but where I arrived was at a better-informed understanding of why I don’t watch local (or for that matter, any) news anymore, unless Something Big has happened.

    What I’m not sure about is whether these numbers have changed, or if just my perception has changed. The only thing I’m sure about is that there is more promotion of network programming faked up as news.

    Oh, and that there are plenty of other places to turn for information.

    What amazes me is how little the local stations seem interested in the large numbers of potential stringers out there on the Net. All kinds of cultivation is possible out there. But the stations seem more threatened than interested in it.

    (Aside: Can some business please create an RSS something-or-other for collecting local info and sell it to the TV news folks?)

    Or maybe that’s just my perception while taking a break from working at 2:20am.

  4. I stumbled on two articles, to appearances by professional journalists trying to digest the implications of the internet and the web for their profession. Headlines for the articles appear one above the other (“TV News in a Postmodern World: The Busine$$ of RSS”, June 2004, by Terry L. Heaton; and, “Babble”, June 2004 by Ron Steinman) on
    DigitalJournalist’s
    June edition’s front page.

    One article said (forgive my hyperbolic summary): ‘Journalists! Learn RSS or start pushing yer shopping carts now,’ and the other inveighed, in a fascinating juxtaposition: “Truly, who has the time to read, digest, and make sense of all the words spewed forth [in blogs]?”

    Here are links to the articles:
    http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0406/steinman.html
    http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0406/heaton.html

    Curiously enough, I stumbled on these articles while searching for an escape, for another career, perhaps as a photojournalist. See, I am a network administrator seeking to flee the increasingly centrally-planned and authoritarian nature of my workplace (and my society, I suppose). The internet and the web have ushered in absolute transparency and absolute centralization of control in my workplace, creating a situation akin to, if you will, Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon meets Taylorism. Stupid networks and smart peers? No, the reality is dumb terminals and obedient workers. One remains perfectly free to stand on the shopping mall sidewalk, our civic realm (such as it is), as the SUVs rush by, arm outstretched, political brochures in hand…or to blog. Dare to do the same on the grounds of your dear employer, MegaCorp (which has supplanted the civic realm as the locus of communal decision making), and well, you will be dealt with, to use the dialect of the Human Resources subculture…appropriately.

    “1,669 The projected number of hours that adults (age 18 and older) will watch television in 2004. This is the equivalent of about 70 days.
    See Table 1125: .”
    — From: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/facts_for_features/001702.html

  5. Ok, so now I’m chewing over the fact the Heaton whose article I hyperbolically summarize above is, in fact, the author of *this* blog. Ok. Right.

    And, so, in looking over some other of Heaton’s remarks, in previous POMO blog entries, as well as another glance at DigitalJournalist…I like them…ok, he cites Tim Berners Lee on the difference between the internet and the web, which is excellent (in my book anyhow)…hmmm…(after reading back and forth between POMO blog and the articles in DigitalJournalist)… I can’t help but notice the rather sharp contrast between Mr. Heaton’s and Mr. Steinman’s perspectives in the articles I cite above (or, at least, the divergence between the tone of the two articles). It’s also interesting to note that there is no interactivity on the Digital Journalist site. Just some observations. I really need to reread both more carefully to see if they do differ — perhaps they simply discuss different topics, rather than meeting in any kind of agreement or disagreement.

    I also would like to add at least this caveat regarding my remarks above: I do wish to issue a caution about panglossian notions of the web and the internet’s ultimate societal effects. If I were to align my view with anyone’s it would be with William Gibson’s more dystopian view. Nevertheless, I would have to admit that ip networks carry with equanimity both my employer’s misguided notions and those of more enlightened organizations. The net can be *both* broadcast *and* multicast *and* peer to peer. Still, I think it is significant that corporations tend to view these things through the lens of cost and efficiency…and that the reality for most workers is less freedom (and here I’m referring both to social freedom and to freedom to solve work-related problems). I’d be interested in hearing what both Terry and Doc Searls have to say about this perspective. Ok, enough thinking out loud for now, thanks for bearing with me.

  6. Anyone who takes a dystopian view of the Internet’s ultimate societal effects either hasn’t spent much time on the Internet or has something to lose. Moreover — and with respect to people such as Mr. Gibson — I’d say such a person resides somewhere up the hierarchical societal food chain and is, therefore, quite pleased with the status quo. That person is either ignoring reality or simply hasn’t been exposed to it. Your assertion that “the Internet and the Web have ushered in absolute transparency and absolute centralization of control in my workplace” is not a reflection of the Internet but rather of your company. The Internet is actually quite the opposite. Structurally and operationally, there can be no central control. Chinese attempts to construct a giant Intranet with centralized control met with dismal failure, and the Internet continues to be a beacon of light to the Chinese.

    The Net is not inherently a broadcast or multicast medium, as you suggest. It can’t be, because the end user is ultimately in charge of what he or she receives. That is the beauty of the Internet and why businesses whose well being depends on passive reception of their message are so threatened. Corporate Intranets or worker use of the Internet are another matter and have little — if anything — to do with Net itself.

    I write about Postmodernism as the fuel for technological advancements involving the Internet — a cultural rejection of logical and rational Modernism. People have simply had it with what they intuitively view as the failure of the god known as the human mind. The Internet isn’t pulling anybody anywhere. It’s exactly the opposite. If that’s panglossian, then so be it.

  7. Wow, if I was a TV station reading this I would show my friends and we would laugh about the pimply faced angst filled little girl that wrote it. If you’re going to write a complaint at least show some restraint and composure.

  8. It’s one thing to kvetch about the utter crappiness of news on TV these days, but it’s quite another to be so anal about it.

    Weather is given repeatedly throughout the broadcast for ‘commuter conveinience’. It was a good idea before the advent of the weather channel. Now, it’s just annoying to anyone who has cable. But it still helps the guy who doesn’t.

    The Cosby remarks…there were some new ones. These made the news over the past week and weekend. These are not the same set of remarks the internet did to death several weeks ago.…something a blog reader should know.

    The ‘minority female’(asian) did NOT win the hot dog eating contest. She HAS NOT won for the last five years. She DOES NOT train by eating tons of hot dogs before the event.

    She came in third, set a new American and female record, and is not usually a competitor in hot dog eating. The actual winner, a japanese man, won his fourth ‘Mustard Yellow’ belt in a row this year, a feat not accomplished in decades.

    Nit-picking, anal details, no? But you know what? Those details are important to someone. Just like the things you wanted to know are important to you. The networks have to cast as big a net as possible to get viewers–they can’t tailor themselves like net news.

    Net news can be adapted to the viewer. You can pick and choose what interests you and go to it.

    Sometimes, the magic talking box isn’t talking to you–

    Sure, you know fireworks are dangerous, we all know fireworks are dangerous.….but how do we know that? Were we born knowing it? Is there a bottle rocket/flight instinct? No. We were told. Over and over again while growing up. Believe it or not–everybody isn’t grown up yet. And they never will be.

    Which demographic did you claim? 18–34? Are you sure? Because embittered old hag seems to fit better.

    Lighten up. Turn your TV back off–or, if you choose to watch, realize that the universe doesn’t revolve around what’s important to you.

  9. The Anonymous Author says

    Phil: Thanks for your comment. I sent it to most of my friends, who got a good laugh. I’m not pimply-faced, and I only angst over important things (TV news is nowhere near important.) I did not send the “memo” to the station, nor would I. Frankly, they’re not important enough and they have zero chance of ever getting me back into the habit of consuming TV. I’m simply in the habit of keeping a journal wherein I comment on things I see. Catching the news last week for the first time in about six years was an astounding experience. My intelligence was insulted, and I was manipulated in ways more appropriate to babysitting a three year old. It was my journal entry for the night. I shared it with Terry because I thought it would make him laugh (it did), and because I’ve been reading his blog and his essays, columns, and articles for a couple of years now from an interesting perspective — that of one who doesn’t own a TV. He’s so correct, in absolutely every detail of his analysis of the TV news business, that it’s frightening. I let him publish it on his blog because it’s an uncensored, unedited, gut-level, HONEST reaction to the tripe that passes for journalism on TV. I thought someone might find it interesting. That’s all. Obviously, I have no idea what line of work you’re in, but whatever it is — would you not find your customer (or audience, or client, or whatever)‘s unexpurgated, unedited, honest, gut-level reaction interesting if you had access to it, even briefly? That’s what this was. No more and no less. 🙂

  10. You make some very good points and Jack makes some very good points in retaliation. I’m going to have to agree with some of them:

    TV news does, on the whole, seem to be getting dumber. In the UK we have presenters standing up, in front of giant screens with snazzy computer graphics. How on Earth did we manage before-hand? Oh, that’s right — we just got the news handed to us straight, no need for snazzy graphics (which, for example, show a picture of a car if it’s a story about motoring).

    Yes TV news has to cover everyone but the main poster was attaciking attention to detail which these days seems lax. And doing the weather throughout is annyoing. In the UK we have it at the end of the news show so if you change channel and see a news broadcast you’ll know there’s one (or two) weather forecasts coming up afterwards. Easy.

  11. I dont watch news for 2 reasons. Its very trivial 99% of the time and it fails utterly as entertainment. When there is important news, people talk about it. And i research it on my own if necessary.

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