Thursday, December 25, 2008

We Don't Need Your Education

What happened to the American media? Network news (ABC, CBS, and NBC) is losing hundreds of viewers a day. Print media is going belly up, the New York Times had to mortgage its headquarters building, and the LA Times is going bankrupt. It’s almost as if people don’t trust the old time media anymore. Where have we, as news consumers, gone wrong?

Network anchors are paid millions of dollars a year to bring in viewers, yet ratings show that viewers are tuning them out in large numbers. Katie Couric is paid $15 million a year, Brian Williams $10 million, and poor Charlie Gibson only gets around $8 million. I started to write that they “earned” those amounts, but I don’t think the word applies in this case. During the last weeks of a very heated presidential election this year, the three networks actually saw a decline in news viewers.

When will these networks realize that the concept of a six o’clock national news program is obsolete? Any major news story that they report has already been covered by the 24 hour news channels and the internet. Because of this fact, what Katie, Brian or Charlie are reporting, is not “news” to most people, it is redundant chatter at best. This probably explains the ongoing audience decline. So during the 30 minute news program (actually more like 26 minutes after commercials), the coverage of hard news probably makes up less than half the show. The rest of the program is personality dependant, the anchors find topics that interest them, and present it as news. They discuss topics that are important to themselves, not necessarily to the viewing public, probably another reason for the drop-off of viewers.

News programs are based on the premise that the individuals reporting events are more knowledgeable on those topics than the public. In the case of network news however, this concept no longer holds true. In the pre-internet, pre 24 news channel days, people were dependant on network news for information. Cronkite, Reasoner, Severeid and Rather had access to outlets like the AP, UPI, and Reuters that the public simply did not possess. So when six o’clock rolled around, an interested nation awaited their words. Unfortunately for Katie and her network brethren, those days have passed. In the modern world, network news offers very little in the way of “news”, it is merely a rehash of semi-current events recited by photogenic, teleprompter driven, well paid, quasi-celebrities who sit behind a desk [the desk represents authority and knowledge, a throwback to our school days] and try to appear intelligent.

News anchors, much like movie stars, are paid to attract an audience. But network news has become a bad movie that never ends, a series that should have been canceled years ago, Fonzie at age sixty, Friends at seventy-five. It has become tiresome, agenda driven and irrelevant, and it’s time, like any non-performer, to be removed from the line-up.

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