I know, I know, I risk sounding like a get-off-my-lawn old guy, but seriously, the network news just ain't what it used to be. In fact, a good bit of it isn't even what I would call news.
I'm not talking about the feel good human interest pieces, those have always been a part of journalism, but when did viral videos become news? It seems that anytime I have a chance to tune into the news, I get treated to the latest YouTube sensation. Since when did cute cats, talking babies and folks getting hit in the nuts become fare that rivals the important events of the day?
Add that to the celebrity gossip and not so subtle plugs for upcoming shows that have crept into the half hour time slot and sadly, our once venerated evening news has become a condensed version of a morning show. What's next, "Here's Tom Brokaw with a cooking segment?"
The other night, between ads for various prescriptions that all had a decent chance of killing me as a side effect, I learned that Pat and Vanna were "hammered" (yes, Brian Williams said hammered) while they taped some Wheel of Fortune episodes decades ago. Earth shattering scoop, especially since it had already been all over the Internet that day. Try real hard to imagine Walter Cronkite reporting on tipsy game show hosts... go ahead, try.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Wink Smiley was found to be somewhat inebriated at the Desilu Studios last evening while filming What's My Deal. And that's the way it is..." Personally, I just can't see him squeezing that in between the moon landing and Vietnam War news.
I understand that the networks are in a bind these days, Cronkite only had two televised competitors, unlike the dozens of cable news outlets and websites streaming into our homes today. This has undoubtedly changed the business by forcing extreme competition, unfortunately not for quality of content but for advertising dollars.
Until the 1990s the networks didn't expect their news divisions to show a profit. To avoid influence from sponsors news was treated as "off the books." It was considered part of the public service requirements to the FCC and a way to build public trust. Not anymore, now the news is seen as a revenue generator and is treated just like any other entertainment programming. It's all about ratings.
A couple of years ago our oldest daughter left her job at a major network to go to work for a company on the internet side of the news. Her old dad was a tad set back by this move until she explained how everybody has already seen every story by the time it reaches the evening news. She decided, correctly I think, that the future of real broadcast journalism, as opposed to "infotainment," is online.
What is the best way to for network news to compete with the Internet? Trying to become more like the Internet? It seems to me that the networks would have a much better shot at attracting, and keeping, an audience if they took the opposite tack and tried to be less like the Internet.
Use the airtime to go in depth and do some real analysis of the stories we already heard earlier in the day, with live interviews featuring real newsmakers, footage from around the globe, things websites would have a hard time duplicating. The networks do some of this now, but it is generally over within the first ten minutes of the broadcast. Then the fluff begins.
Is it just me, or does everybody lose interest when the video for the guy on the bike getting tackled by a wildebeest shows up on the screen? Once again, close your eyes and imagine Walter Cronkite reporting on that.
Not that they want my advice, but it seems to me that the network news should strive to be above all of this nonsense. We already have YouTube for those talking dog diversions. Stick to the news!
Oh, and get off my lawn.
Your Turn: Do you think the evening news has changed for the better or worse? What is your primary news source? Internet? TV? Newspaper? Have I turned into a get-off-my-lawn old guy? Leave us a comment!
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