John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

How dumb do they think we are?

Once a television news operation gets a technology, it’s obliged to use it, regardless whether it makes any sense.

When I lived in Cincinnati, WCPO acquired a helicopter. Once the station had sprung for that kind of cash, there was some kind of chopper report every night. Likewise, once a station has the capability to report from a location other than the studio, reporters and camera operators must be dispatched daily to remote locations, however improbable.

One sees at the eleven o’clock news, for example, a reporter standing outside the darkened City Hall to discuss events earlier in the day involving people who are no longer on the site. What this report from a scene where no one else is present should convey to the viewer is elusive.

Tonight, though, I noticed a further refinement on Baltimore’s WJZ.* The story was the melancholy discovery of the body of a missing child on the Eastern Shore. The events were narrated by a reporter “reporting live,” standing outdoors in the dark. Somewhere. But the substitute anchor, who twice identified the reporter as “reporting live,” never mentioned “from” anywhere. This gave rise to a reasonable supposition that the reporter might have been no nearer the Eastern Shore than, say, a parking lot behind the television studio.

If you think that newspaper journalism has become superficial and trivial, you may not have been watching enough television.**



*Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t usually watch local television news, because my shouted objections make the rest of the family nervous. Tonight, however, stunned by overeating at Christmas dinner, we were too lazy to change the channel.

**Out of deference to Christmas goodwill toward all, I have waited until past midnight to make this post.

11 comments:

  1. Thank you, John, for not reporting this dead. And now, back to our regular idiocy.

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  2. Our local news channel says "reporting live from the newsroom ..." and the person is merely standing a few feet away from the anchor. If, however, the reporter is outside (weather story), s/he may be described as "reporting live from the newsplex ..."

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  3. At least you know if the reporter is "reporting live" that they have information that is as up-to-date as possible for someone standing around in the dark to have. Also, you know that the reporter isn't a zombie.

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  4. You cannot really say the reporter is not a zombie, since they are the Living Dead. And just look at them!

    Also, for some reason I have to comment as Anonymous, but I am not: Twitter ID is MichiganCityDDS.

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  5. I am not sure if it's possible to find a nadir in TV news, just as scientists have not found a way all the way to absolute zero. But this, from last summer, does dig the hole a little deeper:

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5C2gihnEKE.

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  6. The substitution of toys for actual news is insulting enough: that your average reporter,local and national, appears to be a 20+ moist-lipped little popsie with obligatory long blond hair with a center part, gobs of bulky necklaces, blue eye shadow, "casual" dress,cleavage and a high shrieky little voice is enough to make me turn to TCM.

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  7. When TV reporters first started reporting live, they seemed to favor standing in front of large outdoor clocks, such as the ones on courthouses. A viewer could look at the clock on TV, glance at his watch, see that they told the same time, and marvel at the technological advance. More recently, I've heard broadcasters say, "This was recorded live." Sometimes a viewer sees on the screen the words "RECORDED LIVE," which is another way of saying, "OLD NEWS." Local news should show a local corpse, of which there are many, and the anchorman could say, "This was recorded dead."

    The other evening I sat on the couch in front of our TV and thought, "Whom are you fooling?" So I cut out the middle step and went straight to sleep without turning the TV on. Napped better than usual, I think. I never scream at the TV. Rather, I consider myself an idiot for watching.

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  8. "Newsplex" is a great coinage for what we have today, a combination of news and perplexed.

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  9. On one of the local Baltimore channels, perhaps the same one John is talking about, they have a reporter "live on the scene" a little before 5 a.m. in front of City Hall to tell us what will be discussed later that day in City Hall. My husband insists on turning on the TV news in the morning -- I really don't see the point.

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  10. I used to live near the neighborhood where many of the Washington TV stations' studios are located. I'm always amused when I recognize the street corners where they send reporters to report "live" on a story, just a block from the studio.

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  11. At 6:30 this morning WBAL-TV had a reporter standing outside the football stadium, REPORTING LIVE about fans' reactions to the Ravens' victory in yesterday's game. Yes, 6:30 a.m., standing in an empty street outside a darkened stadium from which the last fan had departed half a day previously.

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