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.