What if the news in newspapers were just like the news on television? By the proverbial ignorance/bliss ratio, the world would be an absolutely eostatic place in which to dwell and to know almost nothing.
First of all - see that little name in italic bold at the beginning of this column? If newspaper news were just like TV news, that name would be repeated over and over again throughout the story - maybe right here, in the middle of a paragraph. Of course the phraseology would be a little different. First you would see in type, "Here's so-and-so," and then the story might begin, "Hi, I'm so-and-so, and five people died today when . . ." And so on.
Then, in addition, every few paragraphs the story would stop so that we could call your attention to another story you might like better - one appearing later in the paper. Like, "Coming Up: Today's Horoscope!" Or, "Coming Up: All About YOU!" That's for those who are not concerned with the five people who died today when . . . or the number of cars being recalled by Detroit, or who was caught with what in their desk at the White House.
That kind of thing's so unpleasant. That kind of thing can be so depressing. Who needs it?
It is less unpleasant and less depressing when buffered with reminders of what's ahead - peaceful funsy valleys that lie beyond tall cold peaks. The weather, a movie review, how to grow fat plants, where to buy your next pizza pie, how to rate your spouse's prowess in bed, how to rate your own prowess in bed, and how to rate ratings of spouses' prowesses.
Newspaper space could be organized in the same proportions as time is organized in some TV newscasts. This would be a boon to all the filler producers of the world, since the value of trivia escalates wildly under this system and the value of actual information takes a nose dive. Only three or four pages would have to be given over to mean, hard news.
Then would come the all-new Life-style Tempo Trendo Calendar Chic People Where and When Section. This contains lots of indispensable material on John Travolta's religious beliefs, helpful hints and things to do that will help you for forget about the cruel world. Hi, ho!
The Leisure section would go on for quite awhile, but the Sports section would go on forever . In the new improved Sports World, most sporting events would be hailed automatically as momentous and cataclysmic globe-stoppers, especially during the grace period before they are actually held, and sports writers would be required to point out to readers those coaches, players and team owners whom the writers know "personally."
For instance, a story about Jack Pardee, coach of the Washington Redskins, would begin like this: "Jack Pardee, who is the coach of the Washington Redskins AND A PERSONAL FRIEND OF MINE, today . . ."
The personalities as well as the personal friends of all reporters would assume a new importance. After all, what reader wants to get news from a faceless, impartial, possibly even disheveled objective observer? That's no fun. For guidance in how to put reporters across as real people, newspapers can look to a number of TV stations around the country and their ever-industrious promotion departments, the only departments at TV stations that really never sleep.
At WMAQ in Chicago, a station owned and operated by NBC, the current campaign is designed to impress upon viewers how famous the station's reporters are. So a number of costly and handsome commercials have been produced to get this message across with all the subtlety of Chuck Barris. In one spot, two ladies are having dinner at a posh restaurant when they spot a WMAQ reporter sitting at a nearby table. They gurgle and gape with excitement over this bedazzling proximity to a certified celebrity.
Then an announcer comes on to tell viewers that WMAQ's reporters are "the recognized authorities" in Chicago. It's the pancake No. 2 that probably gives them away.
At another Chicago station, one anchorman stars in a commercial about himself - newspaper reporters are going to have to drop that cloak of anonymity they hide behind - and brags that his professionalism compels him to leave his anchor desk every now and then so that he can go out into the city with only his Spray-Net and a camera crew and get the feel of real life.
To prove howdedicated he is, he holds up a parking ticket that he got on the job. The parking ticket is probably a prop. The car is probably a prop. The reporter is probably a prop. But what a nifty spiel.
In Baltimore, Channel 13's Eyewitness News, tireless in praise of itself, has latched on to the common touch as a way of assuring viewers they are getting the news from people just like them and not from a bunch of know-it-all journalists who worked their way up from the Oshkosh Weekly Shopper.
Thus Jerry Turner, an anchorman whose credibility is contained entirely in his authoritative wavey white hair - he's the aging Sampson on TV news - is now being touted as one of the "People Like You" who give out news. A TV Guide ad finds Turner tooting a trumpet in the midst of four professional models masquerading as people like you. They are all bursting with glee because Jerry is hitting a high C.
"It was a bright, sunny afternoon," says the ad copy, purporting to be Turner's reminiscence. "People all around. A great day for a parade. A great day to celebrate just feeling good. The band was tight, bold, brassy and steppin' high. And when it was over, I showed them 'old hot lips Turner' can still toot a cool, clean horn."
If that doesn't qualify someone to be a journalist, what does?
All these clever devices provide models for newspaper to use if they want to change over to the television way of doing things. It may mean that all those eager young Woodsteins tubling out of journalism schools may have a tough time finding work, but it will be a great boon to the manufacturers of Spray-Net and to that race of know-nothing that is an irreplaceable fixture of the local TV news show: The Cut-Up.
Washington is a dignified news market, at least as compared to cities like Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles, but we do have our cut-ups, and the king of the cut-ups is of course the stubbornly unsinkable Henry Tennenbaum, who doesn't just report on events but instead partcipates in them, so that he is always the star of whatever he covers. At the Georgetown waiters' race, he pretended to get falling-down drunk. Ha ha.
If Henry reported on the end of the world, he would make it a personality feature about how his socks melted as he was pulling them on.
Cut-ups are such fun that some time ago the Los Angeles Metromedia station, KTTV, gave a couple of cut-ups an entire half-hour newscast of their own every night. It is called "MetroNews, MetroNews" and it features reporters who are also seen on the station's regular newscast. The problem is that the station's regular newscast is sometimes funnier than "MeroNews, MetroNews." This is a complication that can surely be worked out and it shouldn't stop any newspapers who are so inclined from converting to the cutes. The truth may make one free, but gee, it can be such a downer. Good morning, America!*