Archive for August 2006

Sometimes the News Just Won’t Cooperate

August 30, 2006

0 for 2. That’s where the count stands on the two “Really Big Stories” of the week. After the first day, some saw the Karr wreck coming in the Jon Benet Ramsey story. Most didn’t. Yah, some will say it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback on this story but where was the skepticism about this guy and his tale. I did my best to avoid the story on TV, radio and newspapers when I could but that proved almost impossible. Other than the fact that the guy was creepy looking, which so far isn’t a crime in this country, red flags should have been going up everywhere. But this reminded me of the feeding frenzy of sharks that I’ve seen on the Nature Channels. The sharks get so caught up with the smell of blood, they may take a bite out of each other. Everybody covering this story was piddling on himself or herself trying to get this tidbit or that. We learned where Karr sat on the plane and what he ate and drank (champagne and prawns). I told my wife on the first day this story broke that if I was in Thailand and facing some sort of sex charges, I would start admitting I did something in the U-S too just so I could get the heck out of the Far East. It may not be as bad as a Turkish prison (as depicted in the movie “Midnight Express”), but hey, why take a chance. Now this guy got two of the things he really wanted which was worldwide attention and a free ticket back home. Yes, he’s now off to California where he will face charges but he’s already set the stage for some sort of insanity plea.
The second strike-out really wasn’t the fault of anyone but Mother Nature. After the huge hurricane season last year, Ernesto couldn’t get to the shores of the U-S fast enough for the various news operations. But Ernesto didn’t deliver and that left the folks covering the “BIG” story filling a lot of time. I still feel story for the folks at the Weather Channel. At least those covering what passes for news can throw to other stories. At the Weather Channel, those guys are left to beating us over the head with last year’s video and “what could happen tomorrow.”
And speaking of hurricanes, the media horde also descended on the Gulf Coast on the anniversary of Katrina. Maybe it will help draw attention to the great distance that area still has to go before they can get back to anything resembling normal. Who knows, maybe this is the “new” normal and it will be like this for the next ten years.


I’m Really Disappointed that I’ve not Heard Anything About Hurricane Katrina as We Approach the Anniversary!

August 27, 2006

You would think by now that somebody, somewhere would have put together a documentary or retrospective on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. But no, so far, nothing, zip, nada.
Oh wait, I just realized I’ve been off in a parallel universe. In this universe, there are plenty of documentaries and retrospectives about Hurricane Katrina. In fact, I cannot tell you how pleased the good folks at The Weather Channel must be these days now that they have Hurricane/now TS Ernesto to distract them from the replay of Katrina. These people are having their own version of a “Weathergasm” in that they are in the middle of hurricane season and haven’t had anything but last year’s storms to harp about. Thank God for Ernesto to deliver them from that “storm video rerun” wasteland. It seems just about every weather person on a national platform is practically drooling over Ernesto. One person actually let it slip about how excited she was about Ernesto. The young woman on the Weather Channel was looking at the forecast path for the storm and how it was approaching the Caribbean Islands of Jamaica and Cuba and how “it was bad news for those who wanted the hurricane to strengthen” since the storm would lose strength over land. Who but a deranged weather person and perhaps a demented news director wants a hurricane to strengthen?
I watched a 60 Minutes piece tonight on New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and how the recovery of the Big Easy is going. Having visited there and the Waveland, MS area back in April, it still brings tears to my eyes at what happened to those sections of the gulf coast. Everyone needs to travel to those areas and look around to see what the devastation looks like. The pictures you see on TV, in the newspapers and the internet don’t do it justice. Seeing things first hand will humble you.
So far I’ve managed to avoid any of the “where are they now one year later” stories. I can tell you where they are. Not very far along from where they were not long after the storm hit.

Could the Sun be Setting on the local TV sportscast?

August 23, 2006

Okay, I admit it. In our household, my wife is the one who is the sports fanatic. While she’s mellowed just a tad over the past few years, the start of college football season (not pro) gets her pumped up like the arrival of cooler weather does for me here in the MidSouth. Oh, I played basketball through my freshman year in high school and used to enjoy a pick-up game now and then. I will go to a couple of college football games and may even watch a little of a big game or a good rivalry on TV, but I can take it or leave it. During college football and basketball season, my wife goes to the sports page first. I may never even look at it. She also listens to sports talk radio during the college fall and spring seasons. But she doesn’t watch local TV sports. Apparently, she’s not alone and the ranks are growing. These days if you want to see a college team covered, you go to one of the cable channels.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen some most excellent things on local sportscasts. But of the three things that are covered in a half hour newscast; News, Weather and Sports, Weather is Topic Number 1 when it comes to the interest of the viewers. News is Number 2 and I don’t mean that literally. It’s just that with the arrival of meters in the markets such as Memphis, news crews rarely leave the Metro area unless it’s for a big murder or disaster. Viewers in the outlying areas really don’t care about the latest crime or fire in Memphis or any other big city. They want to know what’s going on in their town and TV news doesn’t seem to cover that anymore. Then there is the Sports segment. Generally speaking, Sports has seen its time cut in many half hour news casts and in some cases, the plug has been pulled on it altogether. Yah, on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, some shops ramp up their coverage of high school or college football and some may even offer a half hour show after the regular newscast.
Some say the sports information should be produced like a news piece. Provide coverage of something when its truly sports worthy and run the scores at the bottom of the screen during a newscast or use full screens of scores to bump to commercials.
I have seen some amazing story telling from some sports people. While there are some who merely “phone it in”, others are out there busting their hump to tell a story. When it comes to ad-libbing, it’s hard to beat a sportscaster who honed his or her skills on radio. To this day, the most remarkable job of ad-libbing I ever saw came when I was working weekends at the Station Down on the River. The weekend guy, (now the weekday guy) was to hit a football satellite shot out of Fayetteville, Arkansas about halfway through his sports cast. He was down to ten seconds in the countdown to the live shot when the producer started screaming that the signal was down and it would take a couple of minutes to re-establish. I got ready to start doing some cross talk with the sports guy to fill time but he never missed a beat. He proceeded to ad-lib with pertinent information for about a minute and a half and then smoothly transitioned into the satellite shot. Viewers never had a clue anything was amiss. I always wished I had those kind of skills.
But some of what passes for sports is pretty difficult to take. I know we have a number of blue-chip athletes in this area but do we really need video of some news conference where some jock finally reveals where he or she (but primarily he) is going to attend college. In the grand scheme of things, most people don’t really care. Do we really need to hear from some athlete why a game was won or lost. Just once I’d like to hear some athlete say “We lost because they scored more points than we did”.
It’s no secret that consultants generally hate sports and overall, viewers start tuning out of a newscast when sports starts. Some predict that in ten years, the local sportscast will have pretty much disappeared from the half hour news broadcast. Somebody will miss it. It just won’t be me.

Pot Calling the Kettle Black.

August 22, 2006

Pardon my rant, but can someone tell me who told Geraldo and Bill’O they were real news people.
Okay, Bill O’Reilly used to work for ABC news among others and Geraldo Rivera used to turn stories for ABC’s 20-20. He even visited West Tennessee to interview the sheriff of Dyer County who was found to have a sheep in a motel room in Southeast Missouri. I think the sheep was dead at the time. I don’t recall the sheriff’s name but they still chuckle about it in Dyersburg.
Now these two have their own programs on Fox News Channel and to his credit, Bill has a huge following for a cable network. My father used to watch him religously and made this rather telling remark when I asked him about it. He said, “I don’t watch the news anymore, I watch Fox.” I just shook my head.
I really didn’t have a problem with Bill and Geraldo as they preach their brand of news. I get my news from other sources, including cable, the internet, Newsweek and the local paper.
( Just FYI, I always start out reading the comics of the newspaper as it helps prepare me for what I will read elsewhere. ) But then B & G came out with guns blazing at Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report on the Comedy Channel. Folks, (for those of you who have never watched them, you are missing a sure bet) these two take a look at the events and the newsmakers of the day and put their own spin on things. Kind of like what B & G do over on that other cable network. But it was when B & G blasted Stewart and Colbert I started getting a little POd.
I’ve copied this comment from Geraldo off the internet and when I paste it here, it might have some extraneous characters. I apologize in advance:

Geraldo on Colbert and Stewart:They make a living putting on video of old ladies slipping on ice and people laughing. That’s their life. That’s their life. They exist in a small little place where they count for nothing. The history will be made by those who have affirmative thoughts, who make, you know, innovative suggestions in life and are inclusive.

First, I’ve never seen little old ladies slipping on ice and I watch both shows on the Comedy Channel. Granted, many people including Stewart and Colbert take verbal pot shots at O’Reilly and IMHO, Geraldo is a caricature anyway so he’s fair game, and I have no problem with a bit of Tit for Tat. I especially like Stephen Colbert’s rant to Jon Stewart.

Stephen Colbert
[on last Thursday’s 2006-08-10 Daily Show]: What are you trying to imply, Jon? That O‚ÄôReilly and Geraldo are narcissists enthralled in their own overblown egos, projecting their own petty insecurities onto the world around them, inventing false enemies for the sole purpose of bolstering their sense of self-importance, itty-bitty Nixons minus the relevance or a hint of vision?

But I guess the problem I have is that somehow, someway B & G think what they’re doing is somehow special or real news. Yah, Bill has the biggest numbers on the cable news networks. At least the guys on the Comedy Channel will tell you they know they’re not actual news people and they’re merely looking at the absurdity of things that are taking place in the world. At least they are not trying to pass off what they do as “actual” news. And if you have ever watched either Stewart or Colbert when they have a controversial guest on set, these guys can do some serious interviewing and throw out some great questions. It’s none of this softball stuff you might see on other networks or cable news programs.
Maybe they haven’t had a nose broken when someone throws a chair during a free-for-all in the midst of an afternoon tabloid show (Geraldo) or opened up a gangster’s empty vault in Chicago (Geraldo again) or even had an afternoon tabloid show (O’Reilly). My dad used to say, “give O’Reilly a chance, he’ll grow on you.” I’ve watched a little of both B & G. I found I wanted to scrub myself clean afterwards.
Fortunately one of the things that makes America great is we have many choices of what to watch and wew don’t have to watch anything. So, I’ll stick with the Comedy Channel and some of those other news outlets for now.
Okay, my rant is over and I’m off my soapbox. Now back to our regular programming.

Only in America Can We Find a New Way to Beat an Old Story Into the Ground Again.

August 17, 2006

JonBenet Ramsey. A tragic story and while this terrible event played out a thousand miles away, it managed to make my life miserable in Memphis. I admit I hate to see anything bad happen to children, especially when it’s caused by an adult. I mean, come on, they’re children. let them be young and as carefree as they can be. They grow up too fast as it is.
JonBenet Ramsey was only six years old when she was found beaten and strangled around Christmas. Christmas is usually a slow news day and just abbout anything that happens can become big news. I’ve always said, “it’s all about timing.”
From the news reports, JBR’s mother who participated in pageants, had dressed her up like a little doll for child beauty pageants, perhaps trying to fulfill some long-lost dream of her own. I personally think that’s kind of tragic in itself but that’s a different story for a different time.
IMHO, the JBR story signaled the major transition to tabloid news coverage by main media outlets. While this had some possible lurid angles with the parents being accused at some point in time, it was in fact a LOCAL story. It happened in the Denver area and again, while it was tragic, it shouldn’t have gone much beyond that area after the first week. A bunch of kids weren’t gunned down at school or blown up in a federal building. JBR was a local story that became tabloid fodder on a national level.
I grew to dread having to read the inevitable JBR stories that peppered our morning and noon newscasts. They were always there and after a while the story of a dead little girl in Denver took on a life of its own. News magazines did extensive stories on parents who push children into pageants and various competitions and if there was an angle to cover, somebody covered it. Later there would be other stories involving high profile beauties. While I got tired of the extensive coverage of Princess Diana’s death, she was a legitimate international figure. As for JFK Jr., he was more famous for who his parents were and the tragedies in their lives. I did have an interest in his death as it was related to flying and general aviation.
I never understood the hoopla over the Scott Petersen murder case. Remember him? His pregnant wife disappeared and was later found in the San Francisco Bay. He was having an affair. Bottom line: this was a local story that got national attention. Other than the fact it had a couple of twists, it was a murder case like what we have in Memphis (I’m sad to say) on a regular basis. But it happened during a slow news week. I will never truly understand why we gave it so much coverage on the local level in Memphis. It made as much sense as running a convenience store robbery from Australia (which we did more than once) because the video looked good. Big deal. Who really cared.
So now JonBenet Ramsey’s alledged killer is in custody ten years after the fact. Everybody who runs some kind of news is running the story. Even National Public Radio is running the story ad naseum. I’m proud the killer was caught. I’m even more proud of the fact that I don’t have to read it to somebody else.
The day that JonBenet Ramsey died, two tragedies occurred. An innocent little girl lost her life and never got the chance to grow up and realize her potential. And the standards of the news business pertaining to what constitutes news slipped several notches.
It was a sad day on both counts.

I’m Back in the Saddle Again.

August 13, 2006

Wow! I was out of town last week because of a death in the family and when I got back on line I find some sad and interesting things going on.
First, condolences to the family of former Commercial Appeal TV & Radio reporter Tom Walter. The 57 year old Walter died after a long bout with cancer. I really didn’t know Tom that well and only met him face to face twice and both times were awkward at best. I talked with him once on the phone around the time I was preparing to leave the station on the river. I will admit that on stories about ratings, everyone at the SOTR thought he was slanting the story toward the folks on Union. Now it seems some folks on Union think the CA slants the stories toward the SOTR. I always got the impression that Tom really didn’t care too much for the local news media and if he had his druthers would have covered national entertainment exclusively.
I also hear that Annie Kim is leaving the SOTR and from what I am told, she is the third person to announce her departure with no job in hand. Some people are asking me what is going on down there and quite frankly, I don’t know since nobody is talking and anybody who is suspected of talking about internal matters to an outsider can be fired. She follows Christine Connolly and Roswell Encina who both decided the pastures must be greener elsewhere. Best of luck to Ms. Kim.
I’ve had several people asking where former GM on Union Howard Meagle is these days. I will assume he’s still in town unless somebody tells me otherwise. Since I’ve been out of pocket I haven’t heard if the new GM has taken over the reins yet. Last I heard he was in Europe. A new GM always has folks feeling a little antsy whether he or she is a fire-breather or takes a more subtle approach on arrival. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that business as usual will become a thing of the past on Union.

Boy, Am I Glad That is Over!

August 4, 2006

It is so quiet around stately LarkSmith Manor today. The phone has been ringing off the wall during the past week as I have heard from folks just needing a moment of my time. I’m talking about my good friends Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Lamar Alexander, Ed Bryant, Bob Corker and a host of others wanting to encourage me to vote. You could just feel the love oozing through the phone lines.
The problem is my lovely and talented bride and I had already voted early and I really wanted to tell these callers to stop wasting their time and mine. It went beyond annoying. I did feel some sense of revenge as I took Newby the Weather forecasting dog on his morning drag. Our walk takes us by one of the polling places here in the neighborhood. Newby, being the boy dog that he is, took time to heist his leg on a couple of the political signs that had been posted around the polling area. Some of the campaign workers were mortified to see this. I told them since Newby couldn’t vote, he was merely exercising his opinion and that it did not necessarily reflect my opinion.
My wife and I tuned in late in the evening to see how the numbers were coming in and we started out with Fox 13 news. Now I know that they have a 9pm news but with the returns still coming in and no clear winners announced, they shut down their coverage at 10:15. What was up with that. Yah, they kept numbers on the screen but you could almost hear the TV sets changing across the city. We switched over to 24 and Cameron was talking about some crime story and a full screen with election results for Kathryn Bowers in the state Senate popped up. It’s all about timing.
From there we switched back and forth from 3 and 5 and finally pulled the plug around 10:30 or so.
I now expect the phone to stay quiet for about 60 more days. Then I guess some of my good friends will be calling again. Thank goodness for an answering machine.