Monday, May 3rd, 1999
Oh, I tried to watch a few minutes of NBC’s mega-event Noah’s Ark, where, apparently, biblical events transpired in medieval times in a land where British accents prevail. But I found myself holding up my patented Left Hand of Incredulity at the glowing Sony. Just what the? Whatthe? (My all time favorite comic strip balloon: "What the?"-because no one actually talks that way-except me.)
So up flew my patented Right Hand of Remote Control Manipulation, and I was quickly out of my misery. I mean, do we care? They could have staged Noah’s Ark with the cast and costumes of Gilligan’s Island, and it still would have been hyped as the mega-event of May. Jon Voight!?
We had friends over Sunday night, television-watching friends-friends who even have cable-and I asked them who they choose for local television news these days. "We can’t stand any of it," they said. "We watch some CNN, and that’s it." Talked to another friend on the phone the next day. "Local news? It all sucks."
Well, yes, and it’s reached the point where this is the universal wisdom: who do they think they’re fooling with their breathless teasing and promoting? Who watches the news for the news anymore?
I’ll admit, for me, the best antidote to television is indeed the Internet. In my office, I had Fox 5 News at 10 on and a web browser fired up, both close at hand. Amanda Davis was doing what anchors do these days-promoting: "In a moment we’ll have details on a breaking story, a tornado that devastated the midwest." Well, where? What? Just tell us now!
As an Audi commercial ran, I typed www.cnn.com and wham, there were the details before the first thirty second spot was over. Oh. It happened in Oklahoma (is that the midwest? Not where I come from.) And then when Fox 5 News returned, we got a folksy Doug Richards feature on Vidalia Onion beauty queens before, eventually, Russ and Amanda told us what happened to some unfortunate Oklahomans.
And I don’t mean to single out the folks on Briarcliff Road-you can play this same game watching CNN itself. With a computer at hand, you can find out about what’s happening way before a conventional newscast tells you-because they’re compelled to promote it first. They have to keep you through that break, keep you up until eleven.
What I like about getting most of my news from the Internet is the ability to go wandering for other parts of the story. CNN interactive linked the tornado story to the Daily Oklahoman’s website, where I could read someone else’s local perspective. And I could, of course, just as easily hit www.bbc.co.uk and see if a devastating storm gets any attention overseas.
If I were a news consultant weasel, I’d tell my stations that eventually, we’ve got to swing the pendulum back. We must simply tell people the news, the whole story, and give them not a clue what might be coming next. The stories would catch them totally unawares–It would be, like, news to them, each and every time.