Change the Channel

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Acouple of weeks ago, an editorial on this page decried the sorry state of the news business, and we ripped into television news for its general lack of spark, originality and aggressiveness. We received a few comments from readers who agreed with us. We also received a few from readers who, while not disagreeing, thought we took the easy way out by not recommending some fixes.

We think they're right. So let's begin with local newscasts.

It may seem a slight complaint, but the average newscast (and there are plenty of average newscasts) poses a series of questions that are supposed to keep us locked in. “Is there a poison in your home that could be killing your kids?” an anchor will query. Of course, a news consultant says that getting that answer will keep viewers tuned in.

“Can the Cavaliers pull out a buzzer-beating win over the Lakers?” the sports anchor may ask going into the commercial break, showing LeBron James at the end of a slam-dunk so that we know the answer is “Yes.” And how long will this cold front last? The weatherman, we're told, will have the answer in just a few minutes.

In every instance, the newscast could give us an actual piece of news without the unnecessary tease, unnecessary because we may have already gotten it from one of the billion other news sources TV now competes with. Teases must now account for 25% of the airtime on a typical newscast. A staff reporter's favorite: “Is there a murderer on the loose in your neighborhood? Stay tuned.” No! Tell us now, dammit. News shouldn't be hyped like some carnival barker is writing the script.

It is hard to report ideas, business events and legislative matters. It is easy to report murders, car crashes and spectacular fires in vacant buildings, but most cities are not the dangerous places newscasts invariably portray them as. Cities are a collection of communities, each with its own problems. Learn what they are, and report on them. Because the way it looks, there may not be many newspapers around in the future to be tip sheets for newscasters.

As we did with our last editorial on this subject, we've tarred many worthy newscasts and newscasters with the same brush, deliberately to spark a dialogue. Let's hear from you at bncletters@reedbusiness.com.

After all, after 40 or 50 years of local newscasts, stations ought to have evolved beyond worrying over their opening theme music. Many newscasts convey no sense that they know the community they serve. It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where the news is?

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