Has TV News Evolved to “News for Those Who Ride the Short Bus”?

As I prepare to celebrate or at least observe another birthday (July 3rd for those wanting to send gifts and money)  I’m reflecting on how my education has progressed in the now 18 years that I’ve been a home owner in Memphis.  I’ve learned some interesting tidbits and slang and I’ve learned NOT to repeat slang unless I know EXACTLY what it means.  (WARNING****WARNING, THE FOLLOWING ITEM MAY BE CONSIDERED POLITICALLY INCORRECT.  IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED, PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ THIS POST!!!!)  One item I recall came not long after I started working in Memphis.  It came from a videographer who mentioned that a popular verbal “zing” when he was in high school concerned “riding the short bus”.  Now even in rural Western Kentucky, we had a “short bus”.  While I had never heard the term “riding the short bus” as a put-down, when I first heard the phrase as such, I knew immediately what it meant.  I still chuckle about it whenever I’m on the road and see “a short bus”.  All of this came back to mind Wednesday as I was chatting with a friend in the TV news business who referred to the “dumbing down of the news” as “news for those who ride the short bus.”  When I first got into TV news I was directed to write for someone who was in grade school.  I was told “Don’t use big words, use simple concepts and try not to hit too many points in one story”.  My friend tells me he’s been directed recently to “dumb” things down even more.  The argument presented to me was that “smart” people aren’t watching anymore, so write to the audience you have left.  Hey, I’m just repeating what was shared with me.  That particular conversation took place Wednesday morning and leads me to the point of this post.

Around lunchtime, I’m flipping through the channels to catch the news and I see MSNBC has some breathless anchor talking about the discovery of a missing teenager’s body.  I figure it’s got to be a huge story for this to be breaking news.  I figured it was perhaps cult related or had some really big news peg.  I kept waiting for the big reason that this was national news.  It turns out the girl was last seen walking out of a store in the Midwest and had been missing for four days.  They did catch the guy who killed he.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  This young girl is somebody’s daughter and her life was taken and it’s a sad story.  But it’s a LOCAL story.  Just as the Holloway teen from Alabama was and the Jon Benet Ramsey story in Colorado was.  The sad part is that individuals are killed or mysteriously disappear everyday and we don’t have breaking news on them.  Here in Memphis a couple of years ago we had a county inspector disappear and it was later discovered he had been killed and his body burned.  Did that have national anchors going with wall-to-wall coverage?  I don’t think so,  And please, let’s not make this into a “race” thing.  We’ve been down that particular road before.  Yes, the guy killed in Memphis was a black man but I don’t think that it would have mattered if he had been white.  It still would have been and should have been a local or perhaps at best, a regional story.  I could go on with stories that should have been local (Laci Petersen, the two boys abducted in Missouri come to mind) but I think you get my drift here.  Don’t get me wrong.  I feel sorry for the victims and their families.  But after a mention or even a full blown news package gets into the 24-hour news cycle, a story like that should be relegated  to where it belongs: the local or regional feed so it can only be seen on the closed circuit monitor on the short bus where, if you haven’t seen it, it’s still news.

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3 Comments on “Has TV News Evolved to “News for Those Who Ride the Short Bus”?”

  1. Bob Says:

    Answer: It’s a story about a missing pretty white girl. In today’s journalism that’s a slam-dunk national event to be flogged 24-7.

    Next question?

  2. the tall tv guy Says:

    I hear ya, Joe!! Hasn’t this type of over-emphasis of taking a local or regional story to the national level happened since there are now multiple cable news networks? When one covered the mentioned kidnapping / murder case constantly, others seemed obligated to follow.

    After the body was found and a suspect arrested, some outlets decided to tell us about another missing girl for nearly a week in that area and about police finding a girl in a hidden room who had been missing for nearly a year…we didn’t know anything about these stories.

    After this week, I hope I can avoid hearing about Paris Hilton for a while!!

  3. Richard Says:

    It’s the same way with the Mary Winkler trial. Gee whiz! Is it breaking news that some woman who claims she could not get out of an abusive relationship, shoots her husband in the back, comes to her senses enough to grab the kids and run away telling them their daddy will get help……is it breaking news that needs live coverage of her sentencing?


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