I grew up watching Walter Cronkite doing the CBS Evening News. He was a class act back then; he retired much too early; he is now a brittle and humorless old man. The Old News Guard of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s had an integrity that has been missing since the 1980’s in current news broadcasts.

We are now surrounded with “Happy Talk” instead of “Hard News” and our country has been intellectually disintegrating because of that change. Young people are not interested in hard news. Many adults prefer fluff over content.

Are News organizations giving us what we want or providing what we need? If news organizations play to the lowest common denominator in the pursuit of ratings points they acquiesce their duty-bound promise to provide neutral insight into the world and the result is that this nation becomes even dumber because the lowest common denominator, when it comes to people, never moves upward.

A newscaster or a reporter should NEVER speak the words “I” or “Me” or “My” or “Mine” or “Ours” or “We” or “Us” because it makes them the center of the news story and the relevant news of the moment is lost. Is it possible to do a news story about something good and honorable without making the reporter the story or a participant in the piece? The worst national broadcast offenders, in descending order of Happy Talk awful, are: MSNBC, Fox News, ABC News and NBC News.

The worst local broadcast offenders in the New York City/Tri-State area, in descending order of Happy Talk awful, are: WABC 7, WNBC 4, WNYW 5, WCBS 2, WWOR 9 and WPIX 11. I don’t want my newscasters to “chat” with each other or tell each other “good job” or “back to you” or make editorial comments — snide, funny, or otherwise — on news stories or speak phrases like “he got that, right” or “good job” or “oh, I am so offended!”

I want hard news, not the pitter-patter of news anchors’ false bleeding hearts as they flash their eyelashes at us. The breathless and relentless pursuit of the awful and the tragic in the Evening News while grinning and giggling is also disgusting. I yearn for a resurrection of the mainstream “knock-em-on-their-feet research and reporting” kind of newscast that would return to sensible notions of uncovering lies, setting truths straight and telling us something we need to know whether we want to realize it or not.

13 Comments

  1. and nothing is worse than the ‘day time news’. i started watching our local day time news when my daughter was a newborn and i was home and nursing her all the time — nauseating! i could not believe that intelligent adults would put something that unprofessional on the air. maybe there are not intelligent? or, as you suggest, maybe that’s there purpose. who, after all, is watching the day time news? stay at home moms like me? we do not news, we just need another soap opera! research journalism? our brains won’t handle that unless there are jokes in between.
    now we are TV free and listen to the radio instead.
    anna

  2. If you think the local news in NY is bad, you should try watching newscasts in Greenville, SC. The local NBC affiliate is so blatantly conservative it’s nauseous. The local FOX affiliate’s 10 pm broadcast is a comedy of errors that I occasionally watch for a good laugh.
    They also try to do hard-hitting stories, which become pathetic attempts to get viewers. One “in-depth” story was on men who were engaging in “illicit activities” in the men’s room of a local park, and the title of the story was – and I swear to god I’m not making this up – “Sex, Slides and Videotape.”
    You know, I should stop here, because I think I’m coming up with a good blog post of my own on this subject! 🙂

  3. anna: The trend toward “Happy Talk” is infuriating because it does make us wonder who is really watching this stuff. I agree that the radio is usually wonderful and it frees the imagination of the mind to put news together in mid-air.
    Carla: I grew up in Nebraska — a Republican breadbasket — but the evening news, when I was a child, was up-front, hard-hitting, and grindingly factual. It is no longer that way today with media mergers and the fuzzing of local news into regional news kneaded into a mishmash of national events. Perhaps the world is changing too much too fast and the masses seek, even in the evening news, an escape into fantasy and smiles after a long day because the truth of their lives is hard-hitting enough. I feel for you being stuck with the awful newscasts you mention and I hope you can one day find a better source for news beyond laugh value! 🙂

  4. David, I think you are preaching to the converted. The thrust of your blog (why I read it) is to present thoughts, concepts and ideas as clearly and objectively as possible. I see “slant” in the evening news, and I also see “cheese.” “Slant” is political bias, which in turn breeds skepticism in the viewer, not a bad thing. “Cheese” is the unneeded modulation of the voice, like in an infomercial, the ploy of being overly familiar with the audience, as if ratings will rise if the broadcast team can make a connection with the viewer.
    Maybe I was too naive watching Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley– maybe all along they too had biases, but I took their broadcasts at face value, as objective truth.

  5. I remember watching Walter Cronkite when I was seven years old. My dad was a news junkie, and wanted me to be one. 😉 Today, I read the news rather than watch it.
    The anchors today are unprofessional. They condescend rather than report, shoving their personal opinions down your throat regardless of whether or not you want to hear them. I miss the unbiased reporting, as boring as it was.
    Sometimes I find myself watching for entertainment because, as Carla said, it’s a comedy of errors. I like your metaphor of the false bleeding hearts, David. Isn’t that the truth?!

  6. Hey Deborah —
    I, too, read a lot of news. The New York Times is hard to beat. 🙂 I hear they will start charging for all the good content in September.
    I wonder how this “Happy Talk” virus started. I thought I read somewhere it began in Los Angeles where one last place news team decided to “have a party” during the news by chatting with each other and by ALWAYS HAVING FUN.
    The ratings skyrocketed and almost overnight every local and national newscast became the “Happy Talk” format while not for a moment considering perhaps the reason the ratings were high because it was a “freak show” and not a newscast.
    Now that we have freak shows everywhere no one knows how good the old news used to be.
    It will take someone daring enough to turn off the “Happy Talk” news team and take us all back to our real news roots — but I doubt the ratings will be there to ignite a firestorm return to what we used to know was good.

  7. I think NPR is great, Jeff. In fact, most of the hardcore commercial news radio stations in the New York area like 1010 WINS and others are the old “rat-a-tat-tat” breaking news, no chat, format we knew and want back on television. NPR does the deep-look analysis better than regular commercial news radio.

  8. It seems like everyone is into the freak shows. Speaking of which, The Jerry Springer Show used to be good, way back in 1993. He had heartfelt and inspirational stories to share with us. Les Brown was another talk show I used to watch.
    Then, somewhere along the way (maybe it was that LA news team that blew it for all of us), human garbage became the “in” thing. I’m glad Oprah has still been able to keep her show the way it’s always been.
    Back to the news, I’d be willing to pay for good content. I’m always getting calls from the SF Chronicle, but I never read a newspaper. So, maybe I’ll sign up for an online subscription with the Times. Thanks for the referral. 🙂

  9. I’m with you on paying for content, Deborah. I’ll pay for NYT.COM just like I pay for WSJ.COM now. I’m happy to pay for as many different well-written views as possible so I can try to cover all the angles.

  10. This may sound really irreverent, but when I read your post — which I agree with 100% — I couldn’t help but think of the old Saturday Night Live skits with Jane Curtin and Bill Murray going back and forth. Their little ‘freak show’ newscast was such a nice parody of what we could expect of nightly newscasts. The old days of straight news are sorely missed by this old fuddy-duddy.