Station Break: Susan Boyle-Free Chat? Pulitzers, Pirates.

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Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 21, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, April 21, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: Where else can you find a completely Susan Boyle-free chat? We might mention the Pulitzer Prizes, but maybe we won't, too. Also, no Somali pirate or Obama dog chatting, either. But surely we'll find something to provoke, irritate and amuse you...

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Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and thanks for coming 'round...I know I've ranted about this in bits and pieces before, but for the collector at home, I would now like to offer the complete boxed set of the Things I Hate About Local TV News. Feel free to chime in, too:

--"You" abuse. Newscasters are constantly hyping stories by framing them in the second person. "Could you be at risk of [scary disease/crime/exotic home-based calamity]?" Okay, we get it, Mr. TV News Consultant--"you" makes the news about the viewer. Except that it isn't.

--Silly props. Stop holding that sheet of paper while standing in front of the green screen in the studio, anchorpeople. There's nothing on that paper and we know it.

--Reporter "walk and talks." Does it really enhance a news report when the reporter walks down the street while blabbing? No, it does not.

--Bogus live shots. Yes, it SEEMS compelling to have the reporter standing live at the scene of the story. Except this bit of stagecraft almost always begs the question: "Why is the reporter standing THERE when the event in question occured hours ago?"

--News labels. Calling it news just isn't good enough these days.It has to be a "Developing Story," a "Breaking Story," or maybe a "This Just In." Because viewers won't understand that they're watching...the news?

--Bogus local. WTTG last night did a live package about the deaths of four people in a hotel room in Towson. Disturbing story, no doubt. But Towson? When did a Washington station care about dead people in the north Baltimore suburbs?

--Oh, yeah: I hate that I watch local news and don't learn a thing about any institution of importance in American society. Crime--sure, they got that. Bed bugs--yes, that, too. Silly hysteria about mildly titillating social non-trends, like "sexting"? Yep. But anything about government, taxes, poverty, war, religion, history, science, education, the arts? Naw. Hope everyone's happy when the last newspaper shuts its doors. Because we're all going to be a lot stupider then.

Okay, enough. Let's go to the phones...

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Current commercial irritations: Paul -- new Heineken ad with women shrieking over a massive shoe closet, followed by men howling about a similar one stocked with the green bottles is clever, yet so annoying and LOUD I can't change the channel fast enough.

And again, while clever, some new cell phone device that you can use multiple ways is scored to the Journey song "Anyway You Want It." Ford used that song years ago and I loathe it. Sure, I may be in a minority considering Journey's continued popularity -- it's still a very grating sound.

Give me less gratuitous noise, give me less noise!

Paul Farhi: For some reason, the volume control on my remote just went blooey, and now (heaven forbid!) I have to get out of my chair to adjust it. And I'm constantly out of the chair on commercials. It IS annoying.

But I love the Heineken ad. How did Bud Light let them grab that idea?

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Alexandria, Va.: Am I just cranky, or is Channel 7's Belfort Furniture Weather Center (or whatever) totally crass and annoying?

Paul Farhi: "Weather Center" doesn't really say "Belfort Furniture" to me, but I'm not sure what else on the TV news does. And since local stations need to take every single dollar they can grab these days, it probably wasn't hard to swing that deal.

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Air America Story: You see the piece in the WS Journal about Air America starting fundraisers and pledge drives, because the commercial market isn't interested?

Here's the best quote: NPR isn't pleased about the new competition. "There's plenty of opportunity for confusion," says spokeswoman Dana Rehm, who fears the "audience may not discern the differences between public and for-profit operations."

Only room for one left-wing network, huh?

Paul Farhi: Yes, but AA is "considering" a pledge drive, not actually doing it. As is NPR. So, cart before horse, please.

And quit with the NPR-is-liberal business. We've been through this before. Plenty of conservatives are heard on NPR. What *seems* liberal about NPR is that it covers topics--gay marriage, global warming, poverty, race relations, international news, etc.--that conservatives don't seem to like very much. But it covers those topics in a balanced way.

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West Philly, baby:: I miss a week and all of a sudden, you're listed as "Pop Culture" on the discussions list?! Where's the ombudsperson? Who obviously has never seen the heart-aching funk of your smoove dancers.

Paul Farhi: What part of "pop culture" doesn't say "Station BreakDancers"? They're all about the culture, pop and fine.

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Six Pack to go: The Heineken ad is supposed to be a take off on Sex and the City but you knew that didn't you ?

Paul Farhi: Nope. But it works in its own right.

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Kansas: Paul: Next tornado when you're hiding under your bed you'll understand how Belfont furniture and the Weather Center go together real well...

Paul Farhi: Hahaha...

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Rockville, Md.: Paul:

What happened to Albie Dee, Marci Wiser, and Weasel and the night guy at 94.7? What are they doing now? Marci was brought down to D.C. just last year, in 2008, to be 94.7's midday jock and a program director. So less than one year later -- they fire her. Isn't that nice? To the CBS suits: You are morons, you know nothing about radio, music, rock or broadcasting, and you made a huge mistake by killing classic rock on 94.7.

By the way, the new station sucks. It's horrible.

And the CBS suits owe a huge apology -- and huge severance packages -- to Weasel, Cerphe, Albie Dee, Marci Wiser and the night buy. Huge apologies, and huge payouts.

What a huge, stinking, radio mess our local radio has become. It's very sad -- and pathetic.

Paul Farhi: I know Jonathan Gilbert (aka "Weasel") was let go in October, but I'm dim on the whereabouts of the rest of the crew. And I have to say something I didn't think I would--I, too, miss 94.7 as a classic rock station. Yes, it HAD become a little predictable (enough with the Foreigner and Stevie Nicks already!), but it was way preferable to what I'm hearing now. Of course, someone like me isn't supposed to like what I'm hearing now...

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Local News: Why is anybody watching local news anyway? There's very little "news" there, too many commercials, and the same tired round robin of stories every couple months (or less!). Local news broadcasts will be halved in three years -- already local affiliates are shutting them down. Why do YOU watch local news, Paul? Because it's part of your JOB, right? Would you watch it if you didn't have to???

Paul Farhi: Fair point and fair question. I agree: Local TV stations are in as much trouble as local newspapers. Maybe more. It's a very under-reported story (or maybe the death of newspapers story is just very over-reported). In any case, they're about to be overwhelmed by the same forces that have overwhelmed the printed paper. And why do I still watch local news? I watch it less than I used to, but my reasons are the following: 1) Force of habit; 2) Simple inertia; 3) I harbor the vain hope that I will actually learn something.

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Reston, Va.: The thing I hate about local news is when the station you like best is the only one whose news is not in HD. I'm looking at you, Channel 4.

Paul Farhi: Well, that's going to change in a few weeks...

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Leesburg, Va.: "Hope everyone's happy when the last newspaper shuts its doors. Because we're all going to be a lot stupider then."

Paul, have you seen the movie "Idiocracy?"

Judging from this comment, you'd really appreciate it.

Paul Farhi: Yes! I'm among the few people in America who seem to have seen it. For everyone else: "Idiocracy" is Mike "King of the Hill," "Beavis and Butthead" Judge's cinematic follow up to the great "Office Space." "Idiocracy" DOES have some great moments, but it is not, unfortunately, a great film. Good premise (all the idiots breed wildly and take over the world of the future) but so-so follow-through.

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Reston, Va.: Hi Paul: I take to task your position that newspapers are necessarily better than the TV news when it comes to frivolous reporting. Recently, this very paper did a story on a family in Ashburn and their efforts to cut back spending. They were portrayed in a horrible light and the viciousness of the comments posted online was staggering. My question is, where was the journalistic integrity there? What kind of societal good was provided? It was really just a massive smear against this family that is really doing nothing wrong.

Paul Farhi: I won't defend any individual story in the paper because, yes, you can always point to one that offended. But let's do the percentages to put this in perspective. Percentage of newspaper stories that are offensive, superficial, dumb-as-local-TV news stories: About 10, on a bad day. Percentage of local TV news stories that fit the same description: About half, on most days.

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Local news: Local news? Makes you wonder why Channel 9 does local news again at 7 p.m. It seems they have actually expanded the local newscast (with a break for world news at 6:30). Why? Couldn't they find anything better to fill that slot?

Paul Farhi: As an economic proposition (and only as an economic proposition) filling the schedule with news makes lots of sense. It's locally produced, which means all the ad revenue goes to the station. And stations already have the infrastructure (sets, reporters, trucks, anchorfolk) in place, so expanding the amount of news on the air is relatively easy, cheap and lucrative.

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"Bogus live shots": Of all the annoyances you mention, this one doesn't bother me at all. It suggests to me that the reporter is on the ground and has talked to people around the site -- state troopers, eyewitnesses, etc. -- rather than just calling people or reading wire copy.

I find it much more annoying when, say, White House reporters stand in front of that White House green screen. Yes, the White House is your beat; you don't have to stand outside in the rain to prove it. It's still your beat even when you're sitting at a desk.

Paul Farhi: Yes, the White House guys do this, too. And you make a fair point about being on the scene to actually, you know, report the story. And on a straight up basis, I'd even wager that the local reporter has done more actual reporting than the White House reporter, who is often doing little more than talking to Gibbs, getting the administration's release and running outside to the lawn for his/her standup.

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Paul Farhi: And if it pleases the court, may I direct your attention to our Susan Boyle poll today. So far, 40 percent of respondents say that Ms. Britain's Got Talent career flames out....

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For some reason, the volume control on my remote just went blooey, and now (heaven forbid!) I have to get out of my chair to adjust it. : Paul, maybe you should watch some Macgyver reruns to get some ideas for rigging something so you don't have to keep getting up.

Paul Farhi: Let's see: I have a safety pin, some thread, aluminum foil and some military-grade C4 explosive putty. Can you think of anything I could do with that?

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From a Cube Somewhere in the City...: I basically agree on the local news silliness. I don't really watch it here, but did so very much in my hometown in Florida. The most fun part about the news was the tension and hate between the anchor and the weatherman with rude words back and forth. Oh, my bad, METEOROLOGIST. Does that even make sense? Shouldn't that be the study of meteors? My station did a good job of covering local arts and stuff. Actually, I'm happy they ignore national issues because it seems pretentious. That is why I watch the next half hour of world news with the network anchors. I think that combo works well together. Just let me know if it is likely it'll rain or I'll be shot tomorrow and I'm happy.

Paul Farhi: Right, no need for the LOCAL news to cover the national stuff; that's what the cable nets and network news are for. But how about covering the LOCAL scene with a little more depth, a little more intelligence, or maybe just a little more heart?

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White House reporters stand in front of that White House green screen. : It's not a green screen. They are at the White House.

Paul Farhi: Of course, yes. But remember Cokie Roberts' infamous standup in front of the green-screened Capitol, complete with raincoat? I guess everyone learned his/her lesson from that one.

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Metro Center: It does not "beg the question," it raises the question.

C'mon Paul, you make your living with words. respect them!

Paul Farhi: Check.

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Arlington, Va.: Paul, please don't misuse the phrase "begs the question." Begging the question is a form of logical fallacy in which an argument is assumed to be true without evidence other than the argument itself. It does not mean "to raise the question."

Paul Farhi: Check II.

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Ready for your close-up ?: Paul: There's something wistful in the way you speak about local TV news. Is it possible you missed your true career path?

Paul Farhi: You know that old line about having a face made for radio? I've got one made for print.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Don't you love the "investigative reports" during sweeps? Eight months of the year, nothing. Then February, May, July and November, the world around us becomes a much more scary place.

And I don't know what you're seeing in D.C., but it's astonishing how many commercials there are during the morning news here. I haven't timed it, but I'd guess there are 25 minutes of ads each hour.

Paul Farhi: Alas, in Washington, and many other big markets, the "sweeps" are no more. The introduction of electronic meters year-round has eliminated the quarterly sweeps derby. But outside the big cities, Nielsen still does sweeps. Incidentally, I grew up in L.A., which really knew how to do sweeps right (lots of bikinis and hot tubs). In Washington, the stations had this unfortunate respectability thing going.

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Can Of Wor, MS: Since someone opened up on this -- I want to pile on. What can we, as TV viewers, do about the volume of TV commercials. You watch a show with nice calm dialogue and when it cuts to a commercial there an explosion in a movie promo that knocks me off my couch.

It's super annoying.

Paul Farhi: Keep you remote control handy and in working order?

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Bethesda, Md.: "Hope everyone's happy when the last newspaper shuts its doors. Because we're all going to be a lot stupider then."

Chicken, egg. Will we be stupider then, or are newspapers dying because we're already stupider?

Paul Farhi: I dunno. As much as I love newspapers, I acknowledge that the world moves faster than print these days. But, as I've argued before, READERS haven't abandoned newspapers quite as much as advertisers have. The problems of newspapers can be boiled down to three elements: Craigslist (killed classifieds), retail consolidation (fewer retailers means less advertising for us), and debt (newspapers companies took on debt to buy other newspaper companies at exactly the wrong time). The recession has just compounded these problems about a million-fold...

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And I'm constantly out of the chair on commercials.: Any chance this is on HD channels? The programs are in HD but the commercials are not, so the sound level used for HD can be very loud during commercials.

Paul Farhi: I've never thought of that, but now that I do, I'm not sure why commercials on HD should sound any different than commercials on standard-def TV. Is there a difference?

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Lucketts, Va.: 11 p.m. news promos during prime time bug me ... you know, the ones that combine the news event with the start time of the program: "Flash flood, tonight at 11!" Quick, Martha, grab the sandbags, we've only got a couple of hours until it hits!

Paul Farhi: Yes! Some comedian (Carlin? Dennis Miller?) took this to its logical/horrible conclusion: "Nuclear missiles on way to U.S.! Find out if you'll survive at 11."

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Potomac, Md.: This year's batch of Pulitzer nominees and winners is one of the best batch of Pulitzer nominees and winners in years. The stories, features, columns and photographs that won are excellent, and do, for once, represent the best in local and national journalism. We couldn't say that every year -- there were some pretty dumb nominees and winners in recent years, and in some past years. But actually read and enjoy this year's winning stories, columns, features and photographs -- they are excellent. And check out the slide show of The New York Times' winning campaign photographs -- it is excellent. Congrats to all the winners!

Paul Farhi: Hmmm, I think this is hard to measure. I can't say with any certainty that the quality of the Pulitzer winners has risen or declined over the years. Theoretically, you might even guess that it has declined (given the shrinking resources of many newspapers) but I'm not sure that theory is correct.

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Re TV volume: I've had TiVo for a couple years now and all I can say is thank heaven for the 30-second jump! I never watch commercials anymore or live TV for that matter. My dad was visiting recently and watched some baseball live. I actually surprised myself with how intolerant of commercials I'd become. Breaks every 5 minutes? Super loud commercials? Unbelievable!

Paul Farhi: TiVo (and DVRs) generally seem to be one of those consumer technologies that permanently raise the bar--that is, once you get it, you consider going back to the old way a horrible decline in your standard of living. Obvious example: the internet. Can you imagine life without it?

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News people: I still loathe when they start walking to the camera from a wall, the sidewalk, etc.

The Aussie guy from Jurassic Park did a commercial where he was standing in a corner when the spot started and then walked toward the camera as if he came out of the corner.

And why do they have to introduce athletes during the commercial break from stock footage where they look up at the camera?

Paul Farhi: The look-up-at-the-camera introduction is a great cliche. So utterly phony and staged. The Daily Show (of course) has had great fun with it...And somewhat related: Does anyone remember the SNL skit of a few years ago, in which the news team is shooting their promo pictures? The photographer instructs the anchor people to point at each other, in order to contrive some light-hearted image. "C'mon, news team, point! Point!" he barks. I feel the same way about the look up at the camera sports intros. I just want to yell, "Point! Point!"

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Can Of Wor, MS: Of course my remote works, that doesn't mean I should have to use it every 9 minutes to throttle down the volume on commercials.

I usually use my remote to Fast Forward over the commercials while time shifting via my DVR.

Paul Farhi: Sure. That's what the DVR is for (and another reason why TV As We Know It is probably doomed...)

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Ballston, Va.: If I had my own news station, I'd do an expose on news stations that invoke fear in people like 'the dangers of paper cuts, next at 5' 'gravity, does it really do that', 'the top 3.14 things you need to know about eating pie"

etc. etc.

Paul Farhi: Film at 11, Ballston! (or whatever they're using for film these days--possibly "digits").

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Loud Commercia,LS: Here's an explanation about why TV commercials are so loud: FCC requires broadcasters to have equipment that limits the peak power they can use to send out their audio and video signals, meaning the loudest TV commercial will never be any louder than the loudest part of any TV program.

But, TV programs have loud and soft parts. Commercials do not. They are made to be a loud as possible during every part. So, TV programs have a lower average volume, while commercials have a much high average volume, and average volume is the part your ears care about.

Paul Farhi: Right. That's what I understood, too. Thanks...

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11 p.m. news promos during prime time bug me ... : What I hate is when they make the current big news story into a "show" with an official title and theme music.

Paul Farhi: I dunno for sure, but I think TV news theme music may have been around from the very inception of TV news. It's a holdover from newsreels, which always had a booming, martial march-of-time soundtrack...

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College Park, Md.: Now that I've got my new HD TV I've noticed something: when there is a network show on in HD, if the local station puts on a crawl or a weather icon (which happens a lot), the show switches out of HD into standard def. This is ridiculous. I'm not paying for HD TV when something that is supposed to be in HD isn't because a local station wants to show me a thunderstorm warning...

Paul Farhi: Not sure (again) but the local stations may be responding to some kind of early weather-warning requirement. In other words, they may HAVE to run those crawls, by government mandate. In other words, they may have to do what they have to do, and too bad for you.

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Langley, Va.: Hi Paul,

How to say this in the most polite way?

Pat Collins of NBC4, drives me nuts. Truly. Any story that he covers he speaks in that telegraphic.stop. mode. to get your attention, and tries to introduce more drama into a story than perhaps might be there.

Drives me so nuts, as soon as he's on, I change stations.

Paul Farhi: No question he's attention getting. And sometimes he goes too far, yes. But I'm always fascinated not just by what he's saying but how he's saying it. As I've said before: In a cookie-cutter world, Pat breaks the mold.

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Wheaton, Md.: You certainly are pissy today. Having said that, as a 56-year-old female, one of my favorite things is getting a Sunday NYT, and having breakfast/lunch at a quiet cafe, going through each section. Unfortunately, having ALL the news on the paper's Web site, makes it possible for people to pass on buying the dead tree edition. Coupled with the sense of entitlement that EVERYTHING should be free, these twenty and thirtysomething people are the ones screwing everything up! Don't blame us old boomers, Paul.

Paul Farhi: Well, Wheaton, where do you think those young whippersnappers got the idea that everything should be free? It couldn't be from the boomers who put all of their content on the web for free, could it? (How's that for a pissy response?)

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I feel the same way about the look up at the camera sports intros. I just want to yell, "Point! Point!" : Yes, I feel this way about a lot of band photos. Except I want to yell, "Get some expression on your face!" It's like they are required to stand in front of something industrial, fold their arms and look serious, or get caught in an off moment.

Paul Farhi: Under Section 7, subpart B of the International Convention of Rock Band Cliches, no member of any rock band is permitted to smile in a publicity photo. Because, you know, rock is so very serious and important and life is such a drag and we are artists and blahblahblah...

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Wired in New Jersey: I just had a weird memory brought on by your chat. Do you remember the so-called janitor's closet in grade school? It was not really a closet but a scarey room with a drain in the floor, cleaning products in 40 gallon cans, garbage bags piled up and long low sinks for washing out mops and such. It smelled wierd too. Do you happen to know if they still build schools with janitors' closets ?

Paul Farhi: Hahaha! Yes, I do know the answer to this, and I thank you for thinking that I would know the answer...

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Arlington, Va.: But if you took all of those cliches away from local news what would be left?

The worst though is the overly perky morning "personalities". I watch the Channel 5 morning news show. But I despise Holly Morris and her dopey reports. And that traffic chick who is always flirting with Tony Perkins works my last nerve too.

Paul Farhi: In her own hyper-caffeinated way, Holly Morris is the female Pat Collins--she's so wired and crazed that you just have to keep watching her. Just like you have to keep watching Pat, but for a different reason.

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"Nuclear Missile incoming! News @ 11" gag: It was the late, great George Carlin.

Paul Farhi: Thank you (if, in fact, you're right).

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KG, Va.: Paul,

Carlin's Wonderful WINO bit had the line: "The sun failed to come up this morning, huge cracks have appeared on the Earth's surface, and (something else). Details at 11 on Action Central News Scan!"

The reason truly annoying TV commercials sound louder is because, on average, they are. The peak sound level of those commercials are the same as the rest of the programming. However, the dynamic range of the commercials' audio is more compressed, SO THE AVERAGE COMES OUT SO MUCH LOUDER.

Paul Farhi: I don't know from "dynamic range," but it sounds right. They ARE louder...

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You tell 'er, Paul!: Plenty of we scurrilous thirtysomethings completed college before e-mail and the World Wide Web.

I'm with you -- blame the Summer of Love for all this free content. We young'ns will accept responsibility for the spread of coffee shops, such as the one that lady reads her paper in on Sundays.

Paul Farhi: Well, let's really get down on it: The Internet--invented by computer scientists in the 1960s. Starbucks--founded in 1971. Apple Computer--founded in 1976. I think you can see where this is going...

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McPherson Square, D.C.: Sorry to be late but... I wanted to discuss the VERY latest, not just the latest ;-) Get over yourselves.

Paul Farhi: Thanks for that "Developing Post." Or was it a "Breaking Post"?

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Northern Virginia: Last time you had an online discussion it was all Bo the New Dog and now I don't think he could get a cup of coffee in Manhattan. He and Michelle Obama apparently approached the White House press corps yesterday so she could demonstrate that he actually will sit on command (this did not go so well at the rollout due to general excitement), and I saw one minor mention of it somewhere, not a ripple elsewhere. Sic transit gloria mundii.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, true, the news moves quickly. Then again, what news has Bo made lately? He's gotta stay up with the news cycle. Maybe bite David Gregory or something...

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Imagining Life Without the Internet: Having the privilege of Internet access over the duration of my entire corporate existence, I 'STILL' can't figure out what people did to waste time at work before the advent of the Internet.

Paul Farhi: We had Xerox machines, sonny. You could do a lot with those...

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once you get it, you consider going back to the old way a horrible decline in your standard of living.: Not only that, but I find myself reaching for the TiVo remote for things that are not TV. Like the radio. I find I automatically pay less attention because I'm used to being able to rewind. While listening to the radio several times I've reached for the TiVo remote, and then felt silly.

Once, I did it after my cat did something funny. Honestly, it is that ingrained in my habits.

Paul Farhi: Remember "Being There" with Peter Sellers? He's attacked by muggers and he deals with them by trying to click them off with a remote control. And this was 1979!

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Midwest: Have your local news stations adopted sets where the anchors sit on thrones above the other performers? And those reporting on various stories have to keep strolling around the set (occasionally bowing and scraping in the direction of the anchors) because they don't have seats? This is only done on the late day/evening newscasts as everyone gets a chair at 5:00 a.m. (or maybe they are the only ones up then?)

Paul Farhi: Well, that arrangement (brought to you buy Belfort Furniture?) does kind of symbolically reinforce the classic "family" dynamic of most local news sets. The anchors are mom and dad, the sports guy is the young son, the weatherman is the crazy uncle. Shouldn't the partriarch and matriarch be so furniturically honored?

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Then blame The Greatest Generation: If the Internet was invented in the 60s, not too many boomers were old enough to bear responsibility. (Well maybe a few college whiz kids.)

Paul Farhi: I will note that my alma mater, UCLA, played some sort of role in the development of the internet, but I forget what it was, and frankly it had nothing to do with me so I'm not sure what I'm so proud of...

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Edward R. Murrow Award: A good thing Mr. Murrow checked out before he got to see some of the local news dreck that is honored with his journalism prize.

Paul Farhi: Funny, but Murrow did a lot of dreck himself (ever see his celebrity interviews on "Person to Person"?) Godawful, even by our standards. Of course, he probably never did the "sexting" and "bed bugs will eat your living flesh" stories, either. So he had that going for him.

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Green Screen: The one that cracks me up is the one periodically used by the BBC, which makes it look like their studio is looming over the White House; since their bureau used to be and probably still is in the National Press Building, I'm pretty sure that shot's being fed from a camera mounted on a chimney on top of the Hay Adams.

Paul Farhi: Well, not sure how the BBC does it, but there IS a very busy camera perch/news studio on top of the building opposite the White House and next door to the Hay Adams. Several news organizations (including the Beeb) rent that space and do live shots from up there....

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Bethesda, Md.: What I do find funny about local news is that when I travel to other cities (except for New York and Chicago), our local news is vastly superior. Half of the newscast in places like Omaha, Neb., Memphis, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., is one giant sappy dog story. All four local D.C. newscasts seem like the national news when you're in another city.

Paul Farhi: I will give you that. D.C. local news can be sappy, but you haven't seen the sap really run until you get Out There. What's interesting about small-market TV news is how much it LOOKS just like the big-market stations--sets and graphics and bells and whistles. The only thing different is the people--much younger, much less experienced, lower paid, etc.

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Purcellville, Va.: After seeing Miss California's "Today" show interview this morning, I'm so glad she didn't win the Miss USA pageant. What an ego! Not one gracious word for the winner -- it was all about the contest being hers to lose. I thought the winner, Miss N.C., was prettier, gave a better answer to another political question, and picked a more flattering gown that stood out from the rest. But nooo ... it was that one question and her "biblical correctness" that brought Miss California down. Ugh.

Paul Farhi: Finally, a beauty queen makes apparent what we've always suspected! Thing is, pageant winners are always so modest and humble (why push it, when you've already got it?). Good to hear that one of 'em is really letting her hair down. Let's hope this is a trend.

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Paul Farhi: Folks, thanks for all the feedback, but we should all stop wasting our work time on this chat and get back to wasting time on the rest of the internet. Before I go, however, I am pleased to report that 41 percent of you think Susan Boyle will stay just as she is and will become an enduring singing icon. I'm sure this is a hopeful sign, but really, I don't know what to make of it. Surely, we can puzzle it out together next time around. Until then, regards to all!...Paul.

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