A lot has changed since I left the news business nearly six years ago. An explosion of technology has enabled people with sophisticated cell phones to capture pictures of breathtaking and at times revolutionary events as they happen and for those images to be seen within minutes virtually around the globe.
As dramatic and important as this progress is, the mindset of thousands of newsrooms across America remains the same. Topping the list of this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-things is the overly long sound bites used in radio and TV newscasts. Some of them run on and on for four seconds or more.
Other excesses of modern-day journalism include:
- Always trying to interview someone who actually likes a major new project proposed by the president of the United States or another top official. Both broadcast and print journalists do a terrible job of tracking down people who oppose various initiatives. Journalists and network bookers seem unable to locate anyone who is against anything. Strange.
- Not giving nearly enough space or air time to celebrities, even minor ones, when they are engaged in bad deeds or good.
- And somewhat related to the above, dropping a spicy story from broadcasts or newspapers the second there are no new developments. What’s wrong with rehashing and rehashing endlessly?
- A nasty habit of overplaying even the most trivial news out of China, India and Africa. Viewers, listeners and readers can only digest so much information and anything that happens outside North America is really of no import to most Americans. The silliness over the so-called Greek crisis is proof of that, if any were needed.
- Wasting too much time and space identifying the financial backing and political leanings of dozens of interest groups whose spokespersons are quoted in stories.
- Packing too much background and context into stories that are already complicated and hard to understand.
- Not nearly enough focus on medical studies involving 50 or fewer people in Sweden and Norway.
- All too often a very grim approach to the news. Never smiling or laughing or saying “good morning” or ever thanking reporters on the air for reporting.
- Too many in-depth pieces and articles explaining the nuts and bolts of why full-time jobs are hard to find even for those with good skills and excellent educations.
- Bogging pieces down with way too much sourcing. One source should be plenty for any story. If that one source doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, that’s not the reporter’s fault. It’s up to the audience to sort things out. Reporters are much too busy to get sidetracked down this blind alley. Good journalists never talk to several experts about a particular story. They find one person representing a company, industry or interest group and build their piece around that.
- An overwhelming reluctance to tell avid consumers of media anything at all about Anderson Cooper. Where he buys his sweaters, what he uses on his hair, what his normal day is like, what he likes to eat, how much sleep he needs, what his favorite color is and so forth. It’s a blind spot that’s hard to explain. Frankly, it’s mystifying.
But then those of us in our 70s find much of what’s happening around us these days mystifying.
(Posted November 11, 2011)