This is the beauty of blogging … where television viewers, so important to the major networks , but so often without an active voice (other than by changing channels) … can instantly VOICE their views and PUBLICLY debate, dissect, delight or dismay over the direction television is going.
My piece April 23 “Local TV News: Dumbing Down British Columbians” created quite a stir. Many readers told me, on-line and off, how much they agreed and appreciated my frank analysis of what I see as the decline of local television news in terms of in-depth stories, investigative series and meaningful pieces that relate to most of our lives.
Some were angry … mostly those “inside” the business … people who spend their careers reviewing, exposing and critiquing others, somehow don’t like the public spotlight turned on their own business or declining meaningfulness.
And then there was this (see comments in Debating T.V. blog) … raising an important issue and several questions … from one of my blog readers: “ I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on why newsworthy stories are covered less often than fluff pieces. Is it because “harder” stories are more difficult to research and report? Is it because the people who choose which stories to cover believe that viewers prefer stories about lost puppies and biodegradable cups? Is it a huge media conspiracy?”
Wow! What a huge subject! But let’s try … at least from my own personal point of view (and bias) … someone who spent 38 years in the news business … both print and television. (Read: About Me atop my Home page for more detail).
Like many other companies that started out “local”, became great successes, and were then taken over by larger, sometimes huge, conglomerates, many television (and radio) stations in Canada have been re-packaged into largely cookie-cutter reflections of one another.
Members of the conglomerate (even if they don’t call themselves a network) use almost identical opening graphics, similar studio setups, graphics, fonts and, most importantly and increasingly, the same one-size-fits-all pre-packaged “news service” stories. So viewers in Vancouver …. even on their individual local newscasts, often see many of the same stories as viewers in Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg and Montreal … a kind of “enriched white bread” coverage, without distinctive form, texture, spice or taste.
For British Columbians … for example, that means almost no stories from Ottawa about specific B.C. issues (fisheries, forestry, homelessness, Western alienation, Senate reform, local immigration, infrastructure or business funding issues etc.). And other Canadian cities suffer similarly .. because almost all of them have had their “local” reporters/bureaus on Parliament Hill eliminated. A media conspiracy? No. Just another cost-cutting wound, inflicted on the quality of the local news product the conglomerates think they can get away with in their programming.
It is all part of the “do-more-with less” world of the conglomerates. And at many radio and television stations the local coverage situation is even worse.
Many have been squeezed by the bean counters to the point they simply lack enough reporting, camera, research resources to adequately cover/serve their broadcast areas with in-depth, relevant meaningful stories.
So they fill it with fluff … loads of “instant” stories … police blotter stuff (Yellow police tape is great! Flowers at an accident or crime scene even better!) , accidents, funerals and fires. Because it’s cheap to do and readily served up on the platter of daily life in a big city.
Kind of Americanized? Well, I don’t think local news here is as bad as the horribly shallow drivel I have seen in the U.S. major markets .. but we are defintely moving in their direction, not away from it.
When there is big spending on news now, it’s usually for major events that simply can’t be ignored … forest fires, storms, other disasters. And thankfully, most of the stations still cover those stories very well.
What has taken the Big Hit at many stations, in my view, is investigative work, research, regular City Hall or Metro Vancouver beat coverage, meaningful political reporting … because that all costs money and the dedication of regular resources .. things that the huge conglomerates have failed to adequately fund and really seem to believe they can get away without.
No. my dear blog reader, I do not believe “viewers prefer stories about lost puppies and biodegradable cups”. They just can’t avoid it if they keep watching … because too many stations now simply lack the resources to fill their shows daily with same quality viewers used to be able to expect of them.
And their ratings will, I believe, in time, reflect this new reality.
Hope that answers your questions .. and keeps the debate going!