Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Candid Look at Newscaster Trivia

My good friend Bill Kalmar, pictured on the left, granted permission to reprint his superb advice about TV newscasts. Bill writes for top-level newspapers and magazines, and has added comments and articles to this blog previously.

His reaction to newscasts reflects my opinion exactly, and my guess is that you'll identify with his viewpoint quite easily.

Be sure to add your comments by clicking the COMMENTS button, then following the instructions.

This Just In! Felix The Cat Rescued!

Have you noticed that our airwaves no longer carry normal, informative, unadulterated news anymore? "Breaking News" has now become the standard format and thus all news is now presented in an excitable almost breathless tone. News anchors announce what they consider events so extraordinary that it now has the moniker of "Breaking News" or "Important Bulletin". And of course we at home ponder the urgency of the segment particularly when we discover that a cat previously reported as being lodged in a sewer drain has now been rescued! How would we sleep at night not knowing if this miracle had ever taken place!

Recently in a ten-minute span on our local TV stations there were three "Breaking News" stories. One actually had to do with a cat that the day before had become lodged in a sewer drain and now through the diligence of some firefighters was rescued. Oh the joy when Tabby was pulled to safety!

Another "Breaking News" segment informed us that Prime Minister Tony Blair's plane had just overshot the runway but there were no injuries nor did the other 300 obviously nondescript passengers on board realize what had transpired. Had Blair not been on board would we have known that a plane slipped a few feet off the tarmac?

And of course a football game I was watching was interrupted with a "Special Bulletin" so that we could be informed that a former U.S. President was to undergo hip replacement surgery. No additional information on the operation was offered but I sure was pleased to have missed a seventy-eight yard touchdown run to learn that the procedure would not be life threatening!

If this is "Breaking News" how would the networks handle the landing of space aliens, or the discovery of the Loch Ness Monster or Sasquatch (Bigfoot) seen shopping at a local mall? Since we have become conditioned to viewing mundane stories under the "Breaking News" headline, the networks would have to invent a new methodology to attract our attention.

How about "End of the World News" or "If you Miss This Next Segment You Will Awaken In The Morning With Boils On Your Butt"! That might get our attention. As it is now, it is still safe to leave the room when "Breaking News" comes on because it is unlikely to neither stir our curiosity nor make us alter our schedule.

And let's not forget the excitement in the voices of the local weathercasters when after reviewing their Doppler 10,000, they insert the "Storm Watch Alert" on our screens or interrupt The Hoagy Carmichael Hour on the radio to announce that without the slightest accumulation of snow outside, most of the schools in our community have already announced their closing for the next day! Then we are mesmerized for the next five minutes as we hear Barney from the local hardware describe how many snow blowers and shovels are in stock.

Those of us who were brought up watching The Huntley Brinkley Report or Walter Cronkite remember when news was straightforward, meaningful and reported without smiles, inside jokes, asides, innuendo, sarcasm and commentary. Just can't imagine Huntley interrupting Brinkley to inform us that a broccoli recall has just been announced although the infected vegetable was shipped two months earlier and to date no illnesses have been reported.

So trying to determine what is real news and what is blather has become somewhat of a chore. Maybe all this trivial news was prevalent before but now with advanced communication and 24 hour news programs we are just made more aware of it.

Oh, wait a minute some "Breaking News" just flashed on my TV screen. Seems Time Magazine just named me their Person of the Year! Now that's news even though everyone in the United States also has that distinction. Well, in any event I'd better update my resume to include that recognition! And just maybe I'll be on the 11 o'clock news right after the "Breaking News" story of the deer that was seen wandering through the woods with a plastic Halloween pumpkin on its head. Oh the intrigue!

Bill Kalmar, Former Director of the Michigan Quality Council (1993-2003)
Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Examiner (1996-1997)
Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Overseers (2000-2003)

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