Odds and Ends on Monday Morning

I have to admit I’m not finding much these days in the local newspaper that really catches my attention.  Sunday morning’s Commercial Appeal Viewpoint section had an article that did.  It was called “My Thoughts” and was written by Todd Richardson.  It focused on the role the media plays in shaping the view of the Bluff City.  One part of the article dealt with the media’s coverage of crime in Memphis.  I’ve found (as have others) if you watch TV, one gets the feeling that it’s not safe to walk out your door without being mugged, raped or whatever.  One news director said it’s what people want to see, according to surveys.   What that person probably didn’t say was that it’s really easy to cover some crime or fire or chase since all you have to do is point a camera and talk to a victim or fire or police chief.  It takes a whole lot more effort to do something with substance and with increasing smaller staffs and more news holes or slots to fill, time is a luxury that most TV stations just don’t have.  Not any more.  I will say I’ve long had issues for what passes as news anymore.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve pretty much quit watching local news and turn in when the weather turns bad just for updates on storms (as long as they don’t kick into “weathergasm mode”. )

Which kind of takes me back to the point of  “the surveys show this is what viewers want”.  At TV stations, they area already working on writing for the lowest common denominator.  So when people indicate that “they want to see more crime”, it puts me in the mind of children who would rather eat nothing but dessert or sweets instead of having something like a well balanced meal.  No responsible parent who really cared for their child would do such a thing.  Balance is the key.  Sure, give them some of what they want, but be responsible at the same time.  Give them substance, not something that is going to rot their teeth and their brains because if you do that, in the end, you will pay dearly.  Perhaps that is what is happening now with the viewing audience.  For years the audience was fed a steady diet of crap and now that is what is oozing out of their ears.  The smarts left a long time again and they aren’t coming back until the menu has been improved.  Moving on

I think it was Harry S Truman who once said something to the effect “Recession is when your neighbor loses his job, depression is when you lose yours”.   You know the economy is hurting when some big businesses such as FedEx actually start swinging the axe at its workforce.  It’s especially troubling for some of us former news types to see some of those who managed to escape from the trenches of local news and get into the private sector get hit by that axe.  My good friend and former colleague Doug Johnson got tagged Friday at FeEx cut 500 folks in the Memphis area.  Now Doug is not one to let grass grow under his feet and I’m told that he has already started a blog (On the Beach) as he casts his net looking around for gainful employment. Yes, I will vouch for him.   Anyway, check out Doug’s musings and when you check in, tell him Joe Sent ya.

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10 Comments on “Odds and Ends on Monday Morning”

  1. lead pipe Says:

    Joe, my thoughts, too, are with Doug in this difficult time. He’s a quality individual and I see an even better job on the horizon for him.

    For those that have not stopped to take the time to read the Todd Richardson column, I urge you to stop what you are doing, take 5 minutes and digest it. It’s not an easy read, I know, but worthwhile, please, you are intelligent enough to get through it, now read it, and comment.

    Joe, I would not have read this if you had not brought it to my attention.

  2. JD Says:

    Hi Joe!
    A while back I sent you a link to one of the full text speeches of Edward R. Murrow. In same, he spoke of responsible and balanced journalism. He, as you, believed that in order to have an informed/viable society, information should be passed on to the public. Whether the public wanted to avail themselves of it, or not. Note the date on the speech.
    News and information has become (and always has been) nothing more than thrills, chills, and the socially unexpected. Why? Because the public wants it that way. They have no time and neither do the news sources. You know as well as I, that news is the first 3 minutes of a newscast. At 15 after, the weather. Shock and awe for the next newscast, with a few eyeware commericals, men’s clothing and cut rate furniture store commercials thrown in. Even the “Watson’s girl” has disappeared into TV legend!

    Doug Johnson is a professional. I have no fear, he will not be unemployed for long. Federal Express has become an overstuffed upper echelon corporate entity. When it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight….Sam the Mailman does a darn good job of it!

  3. Former Fox 13'er Says:

    Was an interesting article, for sure. There are two problems though, that I see. One, it takes far more time/resources to do ‘good’ stories. In contrast, if you go to a shooting, fire, etc., all of your components are there for ‘one stop shopping’. In today’s economy, TV stations just don’t have the staff to do a bunch of good stories. They have the staff to cover breaking news with one stop shopping. Secondly, there seems to be more of a focus on QUANTITY of stories, rather than quality. My first TV station even promotes as such. They “promise at least 50 stories” in their 9pm news (Fox Affil.) Also, think it’s a bit naive to think a newscast of puppy dogs and butterflies turns Memphis into a sleepy little ‘burgh. The crime is there, so it gets reported. I live in a much smaller community now, and there isn’t much crime. So, they find other stories.

  4. The GM Says:

    Well put by Former Fox 13’er. TV tends to be reactive for the reasons stated, not proactive. Also, look at any station the focuses on “good news” and refuses to cover the shooting/robbery/car-jacking/murder, their numbers will go down because they’re not reporting breaking news. Despite what viewers tell pollsters, they want to know about crime in their area. With all of that said, there has to be a mix — not a balance, a mix.

    Bottom line. If you have a strong meteorologist and strong brand, all the above doesn’t matter — you’re #1 and you’re going to stay #1 if you are true to your brand and if viewers believe your station is the best source for weather information that is clear, concise and accurate. That my friends is local TV.

    The GM

  5. Valibus Says:

    Excellent points. Eventually even the “dessert” stories of crime becomes a giant blur and no one seems to care about Rome burning. It’s even more frustrating to then see the “positive” stories be nothing more than fluff. This city has viable positive stories but I’m really only seeing them in blogs, The Memphis Flyer, and local pieces on WKNO radio.

    It’s also rather irksome to see the comment sections of the CA as crime reports have over hundreds of comments while any positive story in the arts or community can barely break double digits.

  6. windy Says:

    GM, I would “come back” to news to work for you:) I appreciate your insights. Joe, thanks for your blog.

  7. joelarkins Says:

    So, The GM, if you hire windy, do I get a commission or referral fee? Hey, I’m just asking.

  8. The GM Says:

    I am flattered. Thank you.

    If we’re ever able to wrestle local TV away from investment bankers and private equity, it will not only be a great industry, it will also be a great business. I do believe it will come full circle once these guys come to the realization that their “return” will never be the promise made at the height of the economic bubble. They’ll start selling stations once the multiples improve to a sufficient level (about 10x cash flow) and the credit markets unfreeze enough for real local broadcasters to secure financing.

    The GM

  9. The GM Says:

    Oh Joe, I’m sure we can work-out sort of some renumeration.

    The GM

  10. […] Larkins has an interesting post up about television news and the infamous lowest common denominator that it often appeals to. His […]

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