A Reader of This Blog Poses a Question About Local TV News In Memphis

I’ve been fortunate to make contact with a number of folks thanks to my blog and one of those who checks in on occasion resides in Brazil.  Yes, that Brazil, as in South America.  He actually has a Memphis connection and attended the University of Memphis State University and if memory serves me, he interned at WMC.  Anyway, he’s back in town and after watching some local news, he sent me this email.  I thought I’d post it in its entirety and see what kind of feedback it prompted.  Here it is:

I’m actually in Memphis til the end of the month. I have a question
for you, perhaps for your readers. Is it just me or does news actually
exist anymore? What I mean is this. It seems more and more local
channels are creating news and not necessarily reporting the news. I
get back to Memphis perhaps once a year and I’ll tune in to 3, 5, 13
and 24 from time to time. I even keep up online with the local
stations. What I was taught 20 years ago at the former Memphis State
University is not what I see on local news anymore. Why is chasing
cars news? Why is the lotto number news? That’s just 2 examples but
each time I come back it seems like I see more of a “20/20″ broadcast
than I do actual news. Then there are the contests the stations run to
get you to watch that drive me nuts. There seem to be more special
reports of created news than there are actual news stories. Is Memphis
news just that boring and non-eventful to report? Or is it the
almighty dollar? I think the answer is the latter. When you have
roughly 22” of actual airtime to report, I wonder how much of that is
actual news.

Well, thanks for letting me rant! And thanks for posting your blog.

Chris Julian
Sao Paulo

Okay, anyone care to share some thoughts on Mr. Julian’s observations?

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12 Comments on “A Reader of This Blog Poses a Question About Local TV News In Memphis”

  1. The GM Says:

    I sure you’re schocked but I’m going to weigh-in on this.

    Broadcasting has changed. Local, debt-free owners are rare. Banks, private equity and the likes have vested interest (read: they expect a return on their money) in TV stations. News departments are not immune as they were in years past. The ND now has to be as well versed in budgeting as she is in reporting. Many stations look for a quick fix — do a car giveaway, to pump the numbers. Feature stories are easier than hard news. Many of the broadcast journalists coming in today do not know how to do hard news and no one has time to teach them. In short, you have a perfect storm of money being tight, viewers being fragmented, training bein nonexistent and human nature being what it is, people taking the path of least resistence.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. Each person, whether a staffer, manager or owner, needs to decide to pursue excellence. It will will take time but that commitment will be rewarded by the viewers. Then the dollars will follow. Trouble is not many companies can afford the investment in time.

    The GM

  2. in the TV biz Says:

    I think it’s unfair to say local news chases cars. There is a difference with news at each station. I have a feeling this person did not watch ALL the stations all that much. If he had, he would have noticed a significant diffence between each station and the news that is covered. Sure, there is a crime element, but there are also stories on politics and elected leaders, financial stories, how gas is effecting everyday people, campaigns in this election year, etc. I’m not saying local news is perfect by any means, but I don’t agree at all with his assessment.

  3. Ready Camera One, Take Two Says:

    I’ve given up on the locals. It ain’t about the news and it ain’t about the truth.
    I just get tired of it all. Dancing dogs tonight at 10.
    Now days it’s the lottery numbers. It could be Breaking News-Double Exclusive-Live Chopper Update but by golly those lottery numbers will be there covering up the video. It used to be the Daily Double from the dog track and Monday night wrestling results that HAD to get on the air. If Jack Eaton didn’t report those the peasants would storm the Bastille.

  4. Chris Julian Says:

    Let me chime back in here. Remember I’m just the amateur here. I am in no way trying to be an expert or know-it-all. If I have stepped on toes, I do apologize. I’m just average “Joe” viewer. Pardon the pun, Mr. Larkins.

    Having said that, I do agree that the news is covered. There is news on all 5 stations. However, my point was that there seems to be more and more “non-news” items in the newscasts. I think gimmicks cheapen not just the broadcast but the station itself. Who wouldn’t want a corvette or groceries? But to use those tactics to get you to watch is, in a word, “tacky”.

    WPTY/WLMT has a reporter chasing cars. Who cares if bubba runs a red light or talks on his cell phone while driving? Why is that news? That is my point. But people like Jerry Springer tactics nowadays.

    More and more folks are putting money into the lottery. Thus they want to see if their numbers came up. So they’ll go to the station which shows the numbers first. These things draw viewers. I understand this. But it’s not news. I’m not surprised to see these type gimmicks and stories especially during sweeps. I know that with more viewers comes more ad revenue and thus a larger budget and bragging rights.

    I bet my advisor at Memphis State is rolling over in his grave.

  5. Sounds like Chris has hit the nail squarely on the head. His imagination is not playing tricks on him, and any of us that worked back when we actually did news, know the difference.

    Agreed GM, management and corporations are not willing to allow reporters to develop beats, sources, etc, anymore. That’s how you get real news. Heck, newsrooms now think the newspaper is their rundown for stories. Now there’s an original idea!

    I used to take a police chief, sheriff, FBI agent, etc to lunch once a week, or take station “bling” by on a regular basis just to keep me and my phone number fresh in their mind the next time something happened. And guess what. While everyone else was at the command post talking to the “press person” I many times was in the squad car coming back from the scene with exclusive reporting / footage. (Thank you for those lessons way back when Doug Viar!)

    Today many reporters don’t even know how to develop stories, leads, or sources if they aren’t handed or scripted in the morning meeting.


  6. memphisbelle Says:

    Gee, how have we survived without all you knowledgable vets? You guys are pathetic. The business hasn’t been news for 25 years. All of you have been part of its decline. The only reason it’s better now is, none of you are working in it anymore.

  7. joelarkins Says:

    Sorry guys, I just had to pull this comment by Memphis Belle out of the trash bin where the spam filter sent it. I consider this a classic example of the feeble mind-set that seems to have gripped too many news departments. Experience, no we don’t need that. Substance in our newscasts, no we don’t need that. We need flashy graphics, sell the sizzle not the steak. It kind of goes back to the old song “Dirty Laundry” where “we just have to look good, we don’t have to be clear”. I think it’s safe to say Memphis Belle who professes to working in the newsroom DOTR is “one more reason local news is “pretty good”.

  8. joelarkins Says:

    By the way, thanks for weighing in Mr. GM. As always, your perspective is much appreciated.

  9. Doug Johnson Says:

    Wow. Dunno if I want to shake this hornets’ nest anymore than it’s already been shook. Well, okay, I’ll jump in.

    I guess things have changed since I first put my spurs on 22 years ago… But even then, newsrooms weren’t fully staffed; crime was the easiest thing to cover; someone in management was eyeing the bottom line and some of the folks in the newsroom wouldn’t know a real story if it bit them on the butt.

    Do old-timers always bemoan the decline of their former field and believe they’re convinced the young’uns don’t have a clue? Always. The generation before us have been swapping stories at AARP meetings about how clueless we were for years.

    Yes, the profit margins have tightened tremendously. TV stations aren’t in the business of printing money anymore. Some of the folks on-air would rather go from reporting in Memphis to hosting “Extra” than become a 60 Minutes correspondent. People still in the business think some of us got out because we’re whiny, lazy babies who couldn’t hack it anymore.

    So you’re all pretty much right — even “memphisbelle,” even though she needs to find an outlet for all that anger. And watch — in 5 or 10 years, we’ll all still be complaining about how local TV news has fallen even further down the rathole.

  10. The GM Says:

    There you go again Joe. How do you know it is Mr.?

  11. joelarkins Says:

    Busted again. Actually it was an attempt tp bestow a sense of respect and “the” didn’t seem to fit the way I used the title. It was not intended to be sexist. So Mr., Mrs. Ms or whichever, your comments are always appreciated. Actually my biggest concern is that someone keep sharp objects away from Memphis Belle or at least get that person back on the medication. I don’t want to end up in the news because MB blew a gasket. I can hear the soundbite now as someone describes Memphis Belle in a soundbite ” Yes, Memphis Belle was a quiet person, didn’t bother anybody and I never dreamed would do something like this”

  12. JD Says:

    Hi Joe!

    I won’t join in this discussion any further than to suggest to several of your comment authors, and yes even the GM, a speech given by a hero of mine. Edward R. Murrow.

    It is a dated speech certainly, but is very relative to your topic. Very prophetic. We also need to keep in mind that television is still evolving. We have yet to see what’s next!

    Here is the link:

    “Give light and the people will find their own way.”

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