The world is in chaos on many fronts. The war in Ukraine, predictions of a recession, the cost of everything from food to fuel, hurricanes, fires, drought, crime, migrants crossing our borders in record numbers, men getting pregnant and yes, the looming midterm elections that will forecast the political future for at least the next two years. But one thing never seems to change: the legacy television network news.
The three “B” network evening newscasts are so formulaic that little distinction can be made between the three of them.
Admittedly, after subtracting the time for commercials, a 30-minute newscast is typically only about 22 minutes long. That’s not much time to cover the news from around the world, but arguably even that minimal time could be better used.
The self-inflicted wounds typically appear in the first couple of minutes of the broadcast when the host previews what will be reported on in that evening’s newscast. And then, to keep us from changing channels, right before a commercial break, we are again teased about the one story that has caught our attention. But alas, far too often, after our interest has been piqued the story itself is hardly any longer or more substantive than the teasers that kept us waiting.
But perhaps the most predictably redundant feature is the “on-location reporter” segments. They must all go to the same hand-gesturing school. Whether it’s a storm, crime scene or man-made disaster, they almost always feature, on cue, a single reporter walking straight into the camera exhilaratingly shaking their hands in unison — first to one side, then the other, followed by pointing and other gestures before finally lowering both hands together and stopping just short of running into the camera.
And then there is the weather report. There is never any good news here. We are always told that a major storm has the “potential” to affect, pick a number, 30 million Americans. But of course, that means that over 300 million will not be affected. Never mind. And what happens when the forecast turns out to be totally wrong? Nothing. There is likely no other profession where you can make that sort of mistake and still be employed.
But the annoying redundancy is not limited to just the news segments. Most of the commercials are formulaic, too.
At the top of the list are prescription drug ads. Here we are encouraged to lobby our doctors for medications as if they didn’t already know about them. First, we hear the wonderful potential positive effects of a given drug, but then we are told not to take it if we are allergic to it. Then, as picturesque scenes and smiling faces are overlaid with a fast-talking, monotone announcer, we learn of a litany of potential side effects that could cause everything from diarrhea and hives to blood clots and cancer or even death. There is, however, an easy, one-step way of dealing with this. Just tell yourself never to take any drug with a “Z” in its name. Wham. Potential heart attack or stroke averted.
Second only to prescription drug commercials are auto insurance ads. Four or five national firms with arguably the most mindless, formatted nonsense on television. Perhaps they are all just secretly produced by snack food companies to give viewers an opportunity to make a quick dash to the kitchen.
And how could we forget the ads for ambulance-chasing law firms like “Sue Someone and Collect” with dollar signs in their eyes imploring reluctant “victims” to take Winston Churchill’s admonishment to heart and “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Last but not least is the human interest “aw” story. A place to feature cute vignettes of children, pets, returning home soldiers in theme park costumes and anything else that has or could go “viral.” Who cannot smile at a 9-year-old who set up a lemonade stand to raise money for one-eyed squirrels and become a millionaire in the process? Mommy, what’s an LLC?
Admittedly, there are alternatives to legacy television network news. An array of 24-hour cable news channels by definition don’t suffer from server time constraints but sadly do have many of the same annoying affectations of broadcast news. Or you could try one of the news aggregation websites. Personally, I prefer the BBC. I just need to remember to display the closed captions so I can understand what they are saying.
• Tom Edmonds is a retired political media consultant and past president of both the American and International Associations of Political Consultants.