This Just In: Gimmicks Are Breaking TV News

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By John Kelly
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

I would never, ever say that we should get rid of TV news. Moving images piped into our TV sets allow us to experience the world from the comfort of our living rooms. Still, my recent column on the specious special report inspired readers to share the things that bug them about TV news.

For Ellen Paul of Chevy Chase, it's the way that "breaking news" seems suspiciously predictable. Wrote Ellen: "We've noticed that WJLA has breaking news every single day -- and it always manages to come up on the half hour. How nice for them. They've tamed the news cycle. . . . Of course, it turns out that the breaking news is whatever happens to have transpired recently, not necessarily something of significance to the entire broadcast area, or even a significant part of it."

Washington's Roy Ashley has another TV news-related peeve: "It's about those teasers at, say, 10:30 p.m. -- 'Jury renders verdict in the Frisbee trial; details at 11.' "

Said Roy: "Can't they just say, 'Frisbee guilty; details at 11'? . . . Noooo. They have to withhold the news because it isn't time yet for the news, even though they could give the big picture in the same amount of time. By the way, I have nothing personally against Mr. Frisbee."

Jeff Burhans of Laurel is amused by the obsession that TV newsfolks have with going live, or, as he put it: LIVE!

Wrote Jeff: "Newscasters seem to believe that the fact that a report is live makes it more credible or interesting. . . . Often there will be a plug that a reporter will be giving a live report in 20 minutes. When I hear this, I think to myself, 'Great! What's going to be happening in 20 minutes that will be reported LIVE!?' "

Rockville's Mark LaBarre takes exception to a couple of "common, and consummately pointless, video clip practices."

The first involves any incident at a school. "The camera shows groups of kids walking somewhere on or near school grounds. Actually, we must presume even that much; they could just as easily be at the mall, because these shots invariably are framed so nothing above the waist is shown."

Mark guesses they do this so as not to violate the privacy of the kids, but he still thinks it doesn't contribute much to the report. (I've noticed that the same method is used to illustrate any story about obesity or sexually transmitted disease: headless people walking down the street or sitting on park benches while the announcer intones something like, "One in 10 Americans has chlamydia.")

Then there's this Surrealist technique that drives Mark around the bend: "While the reporter narrates, the camera zooms along at sidewalk/street level for about five seconds -- as if in a trotting dog's-eye view -- and then rises up to show . . . absolutely nothing of interest."

Mike Marceau of Silver Spring sent in a list of the rules he would implement immediately if he were "emperor of the airwaves." Among them: the immediate banishment of all adjectives during news reports. When Mike hears something like, "A horrible car accident killed two people" he thinks, "Of course it was horrible, if two people died. We can figure that out by ourselves. We don't need an anchorperson to tell us."

Camping It Up

Nor do you need me to tell you that it's the time of year when we help disadvantaged kids get an advantage: a week at Camp Moss Hollow. The Post and its readers support the camp, which each summer is a home away from home for hundreds of children.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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