Friday, June 02, 2006

Kill your television

Leave it to the powdered up brainchildren of network television to malign, misreport and distort the day's news in any direction their fickle minds see fit. Then, as the rest of the journalistic world watches their handy work with utter puzzlement, they’ve already hopped on to a new story to sensationalize with out even bothering to correct a slew of errors that lay strewn behind in their wake.

Granted, no one is perfect. But the era of so-called “television journalism” has proven how utterly imperfect – better yet, incompetent –some people are when they’re gussied up in front of a camera wearing a layer of makeup that could only be applied by spatula.

As usual, the networks have come out shinning this week with their kamikaze no-holds-barred style of news reporting. Starting at the top of the week, there was the coverage of the CSX train wreck several miles outside of the paved paradise of Amsterdam.

While the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief that a handful of tanker cars weren’t leaking flammable ethanol, the “live, local, late-breaking” geniuses of News Channel 13 still kept a posting on their Web site indicating that the state police were moving to contain the spill. Guess what. There was no spill of ethanol.

But when the on-the-scene reporter chimed in later in the evening, this event of misreporting was glossed over without apology or mention. And in keeping with television news tradition of poor reporting, none of the networks bothered to make as much as a phone call to CSX to find out the real story of what happened, which would have corrected a number of factual errors in their stories, such as the fact that 25 cars derailed, not the 14 that first responders had initially suspected.

Why stop at wrecks when bad reporting can bleed into tragedy? That was the case two days later, when three men drowned after jumping off a bridge into the Great Sacandaga Lake. As information began to dribble out from the scene, reporters from every news channel in the Capital Region descended upon the small town of Edinburg, furiously filming odd angles of pontoon boats and voraciously reporting anything that was spoken.

From those reports, the world learned that the man-made reservoir –often considered one of the shallower lakes in the state –somehow managed to keep an average temperature hovering around 50 degrees. In further dramatizing the event, several moron reporters made it sound as though a cold evening at the lake could freeze the damn thing over. But out of the whole lot, it was a reporter from FOX 23 News –the spawn of an even greater bunch of retards –who gave the best quote of the evening: ladies and gentlemen, just stay out of the water.

Of course, the swimming ability of the men wasn’t taken into account. And despite one FOX News bimbo brandishing an over-sized wall thermometer by the lake the next day, the station didn’t even bother to mention that the lake temperature is in the lower to mid-60s, which is still cool, but far from the ice slush they were reporting earlier.

Sadly, these are just two small examples of how reality is distorted once the camera is rolling. Perhaps that’s why the increasingly frugal networks are continuing to loose viewers at a somewhat alarming rate, even out pacing their dinosaur competition. In 2005, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that local news networks lost about an average of 5 percent of their viewers last year, in contrast to the 3 percent of readers lost by daily newspapers.

Some in the industry will stick up for the networks by pointing out shrinking budgets and smaller news crews thanks a steady decline in ratings over the past decade. But if the bleeding is to stop, the networks need to produce a vision for the future, rather than trying to boil 24 hours of news into what amounts to about five minutes of broadcast space.

Better yet, they need to start reporting the news with even an ounce of insight and accuracy, rather than worrying about camera angles, background shots or how tight their double Windsor knot is tied.

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