As a former television station General Manager I watch television with a very critical eye for accuracy and good production values. Most television viewers are simply watching the tube for entertainment and information, and there is a huge loyal audience for sports programming, too.
Just the other day one of my local television stations was patting themselves on the back for their participation in a local charity promotion. Television and radio stations are required to perform public service by the Federal Communications Commission in order to justify their license to operate over the nation’s air waves. The news anchor said, “Our parking lot has been filled with a constant flow of cars bringing tons of backpacks, pencils, notebooks and rulers; filling our trucks to overfilling levels.”
That statement was a mouthful, but tragically is was totally inaccurate and misleading. And they wonder just why their audience levels are dropping like a stone. As the anchor spoke those words the video rolled and showed one automobile with one person giving a small bag of donated school supplies. The video showed about five or six volunteers standing in a virtually empty parking lot with one truck that was obviously empty.
Now I was not surprised to see the slow participation during these very difficult economic times, but the story presentation was so factually inaccurate, and promotionally self-serving that you must wonder just what else in their newscast is fluff, and inaccurate.
Behind every number one rated television station is a great News Director. I once had such a talented and experienced News Director who used to drum into the anchors and reporters to be accurate, and to write succinctly. This News Director was a great teacher to his newsroom veterans, rookies and even his General Manager (me). He stressed that the editors should make every effort to have the video and writing compliment each other. He worked daily with the production staff, and the video shooters to make certain the video told the story of the event happening so as to assure total authenticity. Writing for television is totally different from that required of a good newspaper scribe.
Unfortunately due to the economy, staff cutbacks are taking place daily across the television and newspaper industry. Viewers now witness more and more amateurish products produced for our consumption. We are viewing far too many youthful, inexperienced anchors/reporters mispronouncing the names of cities, because they do not do their homework before going on the air. Recently I remember hearing a local reporter say that there was a bombing in bah-GO-ta, when she should have said BO-GO-tah (Bogota, Colombia). How can this sloppy work example expect to receive credability?
Last and certainly not least, in my local community there are four network affiliated television stations, and three of them claim that they are either the No. #1 news station in the market or they are the most watched station. Do they really think we are that dumb, or is it the old story that if you tell a lie enough times the public will believe it?
Unfortunately the industry has dropped its once high standards for accuracy and creditability in an effort to sustain profitability. Don’t get me started on the quality of today’s programming, be it local news or network prime time fare, because that is a subject for another entire essay.
Network programming costs have become so exorbitant that quality has suffered along with the deterioration of the audiences’ tastes. Sadly, with few exceptions viewers no longer watch quality programs. The multiple reasons for the decline of our media are appropriate for an in-depth study in a Masters or Doctorial thesis. Simply stated, I feel greed has overtaken ethical, prideful behavior in our media as it has in many other segments of our society. Just look at our political leadership today.
Your Commander no longer believes that the broadcasting or the newspaper industry will ever return to their once great days of appeal and profitability, but the world moves on and something else will ultimately take their place in our frantic daily journey through life. Will it be the internet or is something else on the horizon? Only time will tell.