Tuesday, April 17, 2007; 1:00 PM
Heard or seen something on the pop culture landscape that appalled/delighted/enlightened you? Of course you have. That's what Station Break with Paul Farhi is here for. Local stations, cable, radio shows, commercials, pop culture -- they're all fair game.
Farhi was online Tuesday, April 17, at 1 p.m. ET.
Farhi is a reporter in the Post's Style section, writing about media and popular culture. He's been watching TV and listening to the radio since "The Monkees" were in first run and Adam West was a star. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Los Angeles, Farhi had brief stints in the movie business (as an usher at the Picwood Theater), and in the auto industry (rental-car lot guy) before devoting himself fulltime to word processing. His car has 15 radio pre-sets and his cable system has 500 channels. He vows to use all of them for good. instead of evil.
A transcript follows.
Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and welcome back...Well, we're still digesting the Va. Tech atrocities, and I'm sure there will be lots to say here on that front today. So, without further preamble, we're going straight to the phones....
Arlington, Va.: I think you were a little hard on the networks. The authorities weren't releasing very much info at all. Do we really need them to be on the air rehashing the exact same info over and over? Wait until you have some definitive info and then tell me. I don't need them rumor-mongering and sensationalizing. Cable does that enough already.
washingtonpost.com: Overwhelming News, Except in Prime Time ( Post, April 17)
Paul Farhi: Well, your standard seems pretty arbitrary. Why is it acceptable to repeat the same info--important info, I might add--in SOME hours of the day, but not others? What's so sacrosanct about primetime? Why not there? Or is there too much money at stake for the networks to give up those precious hours to the news?
20005: As a former reporter -- print and broadcast -- I continue to be amazed (and embarrassed as a journalist) at the lengths to which the "talking heads" and radio hosts will go to "reach" for any bit of rumor or innuendo to talk about as fact -- and then pull back saying -- we don't know this is true but it is being reported by one news service.
I guess I'm too much old school but I'd be embarrassed to have my name or face attributed to some of the rush to report activities.
While there may be a perceived need to fill the news slots, there is a greater need to be accurate. Fast is NOT how reputations are made, it is how they are wrecked. Accuracy should be the foundation for all reporters.
Paul Farhi: I have to agree. The standards have slipped as the time allotted has grown. This came home to me most powerfully during the Washington sniper investigation. Lots and lots of rumor and speculation passing as "analysis." Whatever happened to those ex-FBI profilers who came on to describe a disgruntled white guy as the suspect?
Bethesda, Md.: I thought it was interesting to read Tom Shales's column this morning criticizing the media coverage of the Va. Tech shooting, and he states the number of fatalities as 33, when the Post's front page (and most outlets) gives the number as 32.
Maybe he should turn his hypercritical eye back on himself.
washingtonpost.com: Bad News, Broken Slowly ( Post, April 17)
Paul Farhi: Well, I guess you could argue that both numbers are correct in some sense. 33 is the TOTAL number, including the alleged shooter. 32 is the number of victims. But those distinctions should be spelled out, of course.
Too much coverage or not enough?: There is an article in today's Post about the lack of TV coverage on the VT tragedy during prime time.
Am I the only one who thought the coverage was excessive? From the parts I saw around 7 p.m., while not prime time, it seemed like the stations were reporting the same information over and over again to the point that it seemed a little ridiculous as there was no new information being released.
washingtonpost.com: Overwhelming News, Except in Prime Time ( Post, April 17)
Paul Farhi: Don't get me wrong: I'm not arguing for repetition. I AM arguing for putting important news in front of people during the hours most them watch TV. I also found interesting the comments from Tom Kunkel at the Univ. of Md. and Tom Rosenstiel at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, who said putting the news in primetime is *symbolically* important because it says to the public "This is what we should be focused on as a nation."
Washington, D.C.: What a void I've been left with not having Imus on the radio in the morning. Although I was offended by some of the stuff that was said on the show; however, I'd have to say I was often more informed (from the interviews with guests)and entertained (from the impersonations) than offended (I'm liberal, African American, Catholic, etc.).
There's nothing else on the radio in the morning that interests me. Most of the talk radio is either too vanilla or too slanted one way or the other for my taste. The so-called music stations talk too much about nothing and don't play enough music.
I've been able to pick up WFAN in New York on my commute before the sun comes up. Mike and the MAddog (with a familiar voice Charles McCord doing the news) offer a nice change of pace but I don't know if I can take that much screaming and shouting that early in the morning.
Why does D.C. radio s- - k so much?
Paul Farhi: I'll leave aside your last question, in order to make the following observation: Not many people agree with your love of Imus. At least not in the Washington area. His ratings have never been very good here. During the last ratings book, he was averaging about 10,000 listeners per morning on WTNT (570 AM). That tied him for 26th place in morning drive. Not exactly burning up the place.
Annandale, Va.: As we all know, WRC lost some great talent in the last six months, due to corporate cost-cutting measures. Now, I see that the weekend 11 p.m .newscast anchor duties are being shared by James Adams and Shannon Breem. James did a great job solo, as did his predecessors in this role, including Wendy Reiger and Pat Lawson Muse. It seems like having two anchors runs against the station's cost cutting mentality. If they thought James needed a co-anchor, they should have kept Susan Kidd.
Paul Farhi: I hate to broach this subject, but it wouldn't be honest NOT to: I think the Adams-Breem team reflects the (long-held) idea in local TV news that the anchors should reflect racial and gender diversity. That's what WRC-4 is going for, I think. Anchors aren't anchors just because they're good at what they do. They also LOOK a certain way.
Falls Church, Va.: You've probably gotten a hundred questions about it already, but what's the story with George 104 becoming the gospel station, "Washington's Praise"?
Paul Farhi: Glad you brought that up, as I was off on vacation when this news broke and we didn't write up the change. Short version: Bonneville, owner of 104.1 has tried several formats on the station and has tried selling it, all to no avail. Radio One has been looking for an FM frequency to put gospel on the air. Bonneville struck a local market agreement--essential a rental of the station--with Radio One. I guess this satisfies both parties. Question is, how long will Radio One sit still with just a rental agreement. Does it want to buy? Does Bonneville still want to sell?
A Mournful Hokie: As a Hokie Alumn (not near Blacksburg), I was quite glad that there was not wall to wall news. After seeing "Massacre at Virginia Tech," one needed something to do to escape. And watching mindless network entertainment fit the bill perfectly. (Or it would have had the Nats game not been on.)
Paul Farhi: I totally understand your feelings. We all need some escapism. On the other hand, it was weird on the way home from work last night, after a day of seeing some very grim things on TV, to turn on the car radio and hear happy pop music. Seemed so...so "off message." Maybe that's actually a good thing.
Washington, D.C.: Paul, I certainly agree with the journalist who just wrote in ... the TV coverage has been just horrific, which is nothing new. but the locals on Channel 9 just seem to much worse than anyone else ... for example, what the heck is Travee Neale doing on site? She's a reader, not a reporter, and has contributed nothing except what she has seen from CNN ... more Gary Reals please. Hard to believe this was Gordon Peterson's shop once.
Paul Farhi: No comment on Tracey Neale, per se, but the networks and local stations always try to "brand" big events by sending their anchors to them. It's not clear that this adds any actual facts to the pile, but again, it is important symbolically. It says, 'This event is so important that we sent our most visible employee(s).'
Re: Washington, D.C.: As your predecessor on this chat, Frank Aherns would always respond to questions about why Imus was on the air in Washinton notwithstanding dismal rating was that influential decision makers listened to his program as evidenced by his advertisers, i.e., Northrup Grumman, Lockheed, etc.
Paul Farhi: I think Frank is/was right about that.
Washington, D.C.: It's not a matter of certain hours being sacrosanct -- it's a matter of there being no need to constantly rehash details for hours on end. If a broadcaster has amassed enough new, reasonably well-sourced information to justify updating viewers with a special reports that preempts an hour or more of programming, great. But preempting the whole schedule just to repeat the same 20 minutes worth of information (based on the content of the 5, 6 and 11 o'clock broadcasts), or, worse, repeating rumors in the name of "breaking news", just creates unhealthy stress for the hundreds of millions not directly involved.
Paul Farhi: Fine. All we're really arguing about is the best time to tell people stuff. But again, why do these pre-emptions only occur during poorly viewed, low revenue parts of the day? Answer: Because they're low revenue parts of the day! Primetime is where the money is. The networks do not want to mess with their golden geese.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Paul, love the chats! I was just wondering why ALL morning news shows schedule segments with chefs preparing foods when every single time they appear, they are given 45 seconds to prepare a dish and then cut off. Why even bother?
Paul Farhi: Haha! I wish I could cook like thatin 45 seconds (or, in my case, I wish I could like that at all). But good question--maybe because watching someone cook is, you know, kind of boring?
Metro Center, Washington, D.C.: Paul, the only reason I watch Fox 5 in the morning is because it's the only local newscast in the 8-9 a.m. slot. Otherwise, I can't stand listening to Lark McCarthy speed talk her way through the news, nor Holly Morris's pointless stories. My question for you is, why, why why, do the reporters on Fox insist on hawking the myfox.com Web site every 30 seconds? It is beyond annoying. Thanks for letting me rant!
Paul Farhi: Rant on; we're here to help, Metro Center. I think all the local stations have discovered that their web sites are pretty good sources of info AND pretty good sources of ad revenue. This is simple cross-promotion. Fox just does it more aggressively than 4, 7 or 9.
Bowie, Md.: OK, on to another topic ... what is the latest on the Siruis-XM merger? I can't keep up ...
Paul Farhi: Still circling the landing strip. But it's gonna be a long time before it ever lands, if it ever does. Many months to go to get all the approvals from the government...
Arlington, Va.: I don't know if this will really matter to anyone except me, but I'd like to voice my displeasure at hearing some analysts (on TV, in print, etc.) who identified the shooter as 'Chinese.' As it turns out, he was South Korean.
Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for China (I do), but I just hate to see rampant speculation about the shooter being Chinese when no one knew who he was. It 'seemed' that they just thought he looked Chinese.
I know nothing can be done about and it won't matter to most, but it bugs me.
Paul Farhi: Sure. And I disliked the leap-to-conclusions earlier today and late last night that the killer was "Asian." Well, turns out he was, but how did people know he wasn't Asian-American?
Washington, D.C.: Isn't Bonneville part owned by the Mormon Church?
Paul Farhi: It is directly and wholly owned by the church, I believe.
Glued to CNN: What are the cable networks' standards for splashing "breaking news" or "developing story" on their screens? They seem to be vastly overplaying these on the Virginia Tech tragedy -- hours after there have been any new developments. It gets to be like crying wolf after a while -- and pretty irresponsible.
Paul Farhi: Another stupid TV news trick, I'm afraid. My fave is "developing story." As opposed to what? "Developed story?" The locals always seem to slip a "LIVE" tag on everything, even the most mundane stand-up long after the event in question is over (i.e., "developed").
Wall Street: I heard that Fox is going to launch a rival to CNBC. Is this true? I'm not a big fan of the Fox news product, but CNBC desperately needs some competition.
I work on Wall Street, and EVERYPLACE in the area has a TV tuned to CNBC -- the delis, the gyms, the trees. Oh, and my office. Is there another monopoly in TV like it?
Paul Farhi: Yes, the Fox Business Channel is coming, but I don't know when exactly.
RE: Anchor Diversity: Here in Atlanta, we used to have a local morning TV newscaster with one leg. I think he was a Korean War vet. He's been off the air for, like, 20 years though.
Paul Farhi: I won't even try to make a joke about this. You, however, are free to do so.
Fairfax, Va.:"maybe because watching someone cook is, you know, kind of boring".
Yeah, the next thing you know, they'll have an entire cable channel devoted to nothing but people cooking. Haha! That'll be a flop ...
Paul Farhi: I gotta say, my daughter (14) watches a lot of the Food Network. I guess there are ways to make it interesting. Or maybe you don't have to even try since, you know, people do like to eat, sometimes even several times a day.
Fairfax, Va.: As you have noted in today's Post article, Fox will have no coverage on the VT massacre in prime time tonight -- they do not want to mess with the winning combination of "American Idol" and "House" because, as we are well aware, those shows bring in two things ... ratings and advertising dollars to the network. Obviously they are trusting their viewers to tune in to the Fox News Channel for continuous coverage (same goes for NBC Universal's MSNBC outlet, although they did air a prime time report on the main network last night).
Paul Farhi: I think that's true. But it hardly speaks well of the networks for them to say "Go get your news somewhere else."
Imus vs. Tech: Come on people, Imus is over ... that was LAST week's news ... today it's Va. Tech and tomorrow something else. We live in such a fast-paced world that in a single moment what IS news becomes what WAS news and we move on.
Very sad at Tech today and the families, students and staff are devastated. Prayers to all of them.
My point is that news in our country, in this day and age, changes like a baby's dirty diaper. And as sad as this sounds, I am sure by Friday there will be something else to write/talk about.
Paul Farhi: Sadly. Yes. True.
Last Night: I watched ABC all night last night, including "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Bachelor." Nearly every commercial began with whatever update was available at the time, and included a standup from a reporter in Blacksburg (all of whom looked very cold). I think that, combined with the fact that they broke in WHEN the press conference was live, which was before prime time began, was appropriate coverage. The station didn't continuously repeat information, but provided consistent updates on the issue. I say, well done ABC.
Paul Farhi: Well, let's go back to the question I posed in the article: How big does the news have to be for the networks to clear out their entertainment schedules? The shootings at Virginia Tech clearly did not rise to a big enough level. Period.
News Primetime: NBC did devote the 10:00 p.m. hour to the shootings.
Paul Farhi: Yep. And a pretty good show. Although the smiley woman at the end, rambling on about having gone to school at V-Tech and how the school colors are maroon and orange blah blah blah, was a very strange postscript, I thought.
Purcellville: I can't help but agree with the previous posters' assessment of local coverage of the Va. Tech tragedy. Especially Channel 9. I was streaming it at work yesterday and I could not believe what I was hearing from Derek McGinty (especially given his NPR roots). He was doing all he could to create conjecture and hype the death toll. I was pleasantly surprised by Todd McDermott, however. He was continuously trying to keep McGinty in check. I hadn't had much exposure to him, as I usually don't watch 9, but was impressed.
Paul Farhi: Interesting. Thanks.
Baltimore, Md.: Stupid news tricks: My favorite is when a local station sends a reporter to, say, stand in front of police headquarters in order to report on an arrest and set up video footage of a police spokesman. There is no reason why the reporter could not simply sit at a desk in the newsroom and tee up the report, but somehow the standup must go on, even as it bears no relationship to the actual reporting.
Paul Farhi: You're right. But TV news folk will tell you that it adds a certain urgency, a certain you-are-there visual quality, even if it is a bit illusory. And TV IS about visuals...
Baltimore, Md.: Every time something big happens in the country, there is always a quote high up in the Post's main story about the president's response. What does what George Bush (or any president) have to say about the tragedy have anything to do with it? They always say the most predictable things anyway ...
Paul Farhi: I don't mind that at all. The president, whoever he is, is a key arbiter--maybe THE key arbiter--of what's important to the nation as a whole. By making a statement, he's focusing the nation's attention on something that's worth focusing on. I'd say that's always been an important function of the presidency.
Arlington, Va.: Does the chatter from Metro Center get Newschannel 8? That's what I watch in the morning (and in the evening, for that matter). They're low-key and tell you pretty much all you need to know.
Paul Farhi: I've always like Newschannel 8's approach to covering local stuff. Solid and straightforward. No flash, no gimmicks. That's not a formula for big ratings, but it is admirable.
Escapism: My sense is that those broadcast outlets which provide escapist entertainment realize that you aren't going to be there if you need more hard news ... but if you need a break, they might as well do what they do well, and leave the hard stuff to others.
Paul Farhi: Well, see, this is a change from the networks' historical role, and it's been a long time in developing. Back when they were the only game in town, the networks would drop everything for important news. They don't now, in part because of the reasons you cite (because news is available elsewhere). I understand their business pressures, but let's acknowledge that the world has changed, too.
Arlington, Va.: A lot of the news stories I found interesting centered around gun laws and what major shootings (Luby's Cafe and Columbine) have done to toughen those laws.
Will Virginia try to strike down some of the gun-friendly laws in the state or will the NRA prove to be too much of an influence? And what will the reaction be on a federal level?
Paul Farhi: My wife and I were discussing this aspect of the story during the NBC report last night. I pointed out that this topic always comes up after one of these horrific shootings--and nothing ever happens (in fact, Bush let the ban on assault weapons lapse during his first term). I'm not advocating anything, mind you; I'm just saying that politically it's VERY difficult to pass federal gun-control legislation. And it's probably even more difficult in a conservative state like Virginia.
How big does news have to be?: Big enough to require more than 5 or 10 minutes to recount factually. (Speculation about "What went wrong?" and "Who's to blame?" "Could it have been handled differently?" doesn't count.) Or a situation in real flux, where conditions change frequently. In other words, where there's actual NEWS happening.
Paul Farhi: By that standard, the networks should not have gone wall-to-wall (which they did) when President Reagan and Pope John Paul II died. And what "new developments" were there in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? The old developments seemed to be serious enough to warrant our attention.
Alexandria, Va.: Sorry, Paul, I have to disagree with you this one. You criticize ABC's decision to show "Dancing with the Stars' last night. Yet there were frequent local cut-ins with Leon Harris during the show, and not once was any new information given. If I wanted to hear the same information and see the same parked police cars over and over, I had several cable new channels to meet my needs.
This notion that continuous primetime coverage is the national imprimatur of "importance" harkens back to the Kent Brockman/authoritative news anchor stereotype.
Paul Farhi: I guess I'm old school. Sue me.
Interrupting prime time ...:... Thank goodness they didn't. I hate wall-to-wall coverage of anything, State of the Union, big news, whatever. Look, I'm a journalist, the news interests me. But even more so, I HATE TV news' propensity for telling us the same things over and over -- and yes, that's what it is most of the time. I found a good balance by watching "The Bachelor" (yeah, yeah, I know) and flipping to CNN during commercials. I learned lots from "The Bachelor" (twelve different ways to say you have a "connection" with a dude) and nothing new from the news.
Paul Farhi: I can see I'm losing the popular vote here. I'll pin my hopes on the electoral college...
Falls Church, Va. : I have to respectfully disagree with your article this morning. I found myself hoping that the networks wouldn't preempt their primetime lineups last night simply because after being barraged by images all day there was nothing new left to report, and I couldn't bear to watch anymore. At that point it was just speculation that was feeding the media frenzy. I needed some escapism.
Paul Farhi: If elected I will not serve, if nominated....
New York, N.Y.: There's something unsettling about the modern news machine in action. The media has been so good at it, and the tech shooting was a perfect example. In the first afternoon the Post had a tech student hosting a live discussion. Cellphone video was available on the site. And this morning there was already a sidebar on tech-savvy trauma.
It seems like since 9/11 the media has gotten highly efficient at getting every possible angle and story. I don't want to say they are exploiting it, but the efficiency is unnerving to me for some reason.
Paul Farhi: So you want LESS news? And what news do you want less of?
Anonymous: Sending a station¿s own folks to a story already being covered by network personnel and others is somewhat akin to the perceived need to have so-called live coverage of an event by having someone on camera in front of the site of the event. Stations will send a reporter to stand in front of a government building at 6 a.m. to report on something that will occur there later in the day. The building is not even open, and the reporter is not obtaining any more information than the folks in the newsroom. My favorite, however, is probably when someone reports live from a different part of the station¿s own building. Preferably with lots of TV monitors showing different images in back of them to give the impression news is streaming in from all over the place.
Paul Farhi: Well, let me try to hold the cynicism for a second. All of these bells and whistles are unnecessary until you consider things from the network/station's perspective. Would masses of people still tune in and pay attention without these things? Maybe not. Or maybe they'd go to another network/station that did do these things. So, maybe these are just minimal concessions, minor irritations really, to mass audience sensibilities....We now return to our regular cynicism.
Frederick, Md.: I see lots of footage from WHAG in Hagerstown making its way onto WRC and WBAL lately. Since WHAG is without competition, I was wondering what size market would Hagerstown be if it were not part of the D.C. DMA?
Paul Farhi: Says here that Hagerstown would be about the 166th-ranked media market (out of about 225 nationally), if it weren't part of the Washington, D.C. metro (eighth ranked). But these things are screwy. Sometimes DC and Baltimore are paired as one market. Sometimes Baltimore is a separate market (it is for radio and TV ratings, but not on other lists).
Baltimore, Md.: Why the morning lineup change at CNN? Are the previous hosts still with the network?
Paul Farhi: Yes, the O'Briens (Soledad and Miles) have been offered other on-air jobs by CNN.
Arlington, Va.: I really, really hate Powers Boothe ... and I'm so glad he is on "24" this year. It's always fun to have someone who is supposed to be on our side who is so diabolically evil.
Paul Farhi: Boy, he sure is cranky. And mean. And just when we thought we were rid of him, Prez Palmer wipes out...
Des Moines, Iowa: Whatever happened to local radio news? Hardly any radio newsrooms nationwide are breaking stories that lead to water cooler talk the next day. Was it strictly financial reasons that led to most local newsrooms being dismantaled?
Paul Farhi: I think it was. Radio news is barely hanging on in a lot of cities. Washington--possibly the news capital of the world--is no exception. Outside of WTOP, and to a lesser extent WMAL-AM and WAMU-FM, who does original local radio reporting in Washington anymore?
Paul Farhi: Folks, very sorry I couldn't get to all the great questions and comments today (I'm sorry I couldn't get to some of the mediocre questions and comments, too). But we have another chance. Two weeks from today, we do this all again. New issues. New answers. Same old host. Be there. Aloha...And in the meantime, regards to all....Paul.
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