Crap TV

Why is TV News so bad?

How it is possible that we spend so much time, effort and money and continually produce such a mediocre product?

When television was first invented in 1939, it did not come with an instruction manual.

God did not descend upon 30 Rock and tell David Sarnoff, ‘thou shalt have cameramen. Thou shalt have producers. Thou shalt have anchors.’

We made all this stuff up.

All of it!

And so we can change it.

Medicine is 3,000 years old. Law dates from the Code of Hamurabi. But television started yesterday. It is within our power to change how we do the whole thing. Maybe we should.

When television first arrived no one knew what to do with it. Radio was the big play. The best people worked in radio. No one wanted to work in TV. TV in 1948 was like the web in 1992 – a small corner with a bunch of screw ups buried in the basesement. No one would imagine that TV would eat up radio. No one can imagine that the web will eat up TV.

The screw ups had no budget. They were just told to make TV news.

So they dragged a camera into the radio newsroom and turned it on.

Take a look at Brian Williams or your local news anchor sitting at that desk in that ridiculous suit, stiff as a board. What are you watching? You are watching radio news 1938. And you know when they check off stuff on that piece of paper in front of them? It’s a fraud. They’re reading off a teleprompter. The ‘paper’ is a remnant of radio. The whole thing is radio news 1938… on TV.

When the geeks were told to make TV news in 1948, they had no model. No one had ever made TV news before. But they went to the movies. They watched Pathe and Movietone newsreels. This was news. So they imitated Hollywood. It was all that they had to go on.

Go into any TV newsroom today and look around.

Directors, producers, associate producers, talent… “The Show”. These are not journalism terms. These are Hollywood terms. The geeks created a cheapened Hollywood to make TV news.

Hollywood is great at movies.

Hollywood however, is crap at journalism.

And because Hollywood is crap at journalism, the news product that it makes is also crap. This is what airs nightly. Crap. (If you think it is good, here’s a good experiment for you. Burn your local news show on a DVD, take it down to Blockbusters and see if you can sell it for $1. Bet you can’t sell one. Now, you are spending $40 million a year or more a year to produce a nightly product that actually almost no one wants to see. ) Crap TV.

Now, there was a model in the 1940s for producing really high quality journalism. It was newspapers. Newspapers had been around for about 150 years and had the ‘go out into the community, get the story and publish it nightly’ thing down to a science. TV news should have modeled themselves on newspapers and not Hollywood. They would have made a better product.

It is not too late.

We can self correct television news.

We can fill our newsrooms with reporters equipped with the technology to go out into the community or the world and gather stories – in this case, video and online. We can then do what a newspaper does – say to them, ‘here is your pencil, there is the door, see you at 6’. We can dispatch 50 of them or 500 of them a day, and then publish the results – on line or on air.

We can do this. If we want to.

or… we can keep making ‘the show’.

2 responses to “Crap TV

  1. Pingback: Martin Stabe » links for 2007-03-08

  2. Outstanding post. Motion pictures were the only “video” archetype and, it’s easy to forget, video is relatively new – we began by shooting and cutting film. During a “house cleaning” at one station we found promotional posters used to tout “Tonight’s news live on film.” Most early station casts were not shot live but “produced.”

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