I have stopped watching most local newscasts. I used to look forward to 4 o’clock. Time to transition between working at my computer, often alone all day, and tuning into the world. A former journalist and lover of all news, local, national and international, I like to know what’s happening. And why and the ramifications, if possible.
For years, I’ve been defending “the media,” when I hear people saying it’s worthless, gone to hell in a Gucci tote. I still think there are excellent newspapers and programs and that they play a vital part in our democracy. But, mostly, the networks and local stations have sold out.
Yellow journalism has become orange and flame red journalism. Sensationalism always been there, of course, like a bonfire luring us to listen to the scariest stories, but now it rages into wildfires out of control.
Within half an hour, laid-back, utopian San Diego transforms into a dystopian version, Mad Max meets Wild West. Even surfers and lifeguards stir up fearful waters, sharks, riptides.
School administrators are siphoning off funds. Teachers are dating students. Students are harassing one another and covering walls in graffiti. Malls are invading formerly protected land. Roads are disintegrating. (The affable mayor leads inspection groups around neighborhoods assuring everyone potholes are in the budget.) A mentally ill man is setting sleeping homeless on fire and also whacking them with a hammer. Distraught, formerly known as nice, neighbors barricade themselves and start shooting. The Bad Grandpa Bandit hits another bank. Another pot dispensary gets busted.
Traffic accidents zoomed in on by helicopter, the worse, the more air time. A semi dangling off a freeway overpass or a sad soul who has plummeted off the overpass means several helicopter segments.
House fires, brush fires, wild fires. Just waiting for the wind to pick up! It’s going to be the worst fire season yet! No wait, El Nino is going to bring the wettest winter yet. (It didn’t.)
The local newscast devotes about five minutes to “good news.” Wiping tears, the anchors introduce the teacher, volunteer, hero, even dog or cat adopted, of the month. There is goodness in this burning, flooding, shoot ’em up city gone bad.
Another reason I don’t enjoy local news anymore, another style over substance sellout, is because of the way women anchors are forced to dress. Men deliver the news in professional jackets and ties. Women in tight, sleeveless, low-cut dresses, more appropriate for a cocktail party. It’s good to see more women in the profession, but sad that they are still used like Barbie dolls to improve ratings. With the weather women, it’s even worse. They wave their well-toned arms over colorful charts, but tottering in their high heels, bulging in their sausage dresses, they might as well be draped across the hood of a car at a car show.
So now I wait until 5 o’clock. That’s when the local PBS station offers a quieter version of the day’s news. Some of it may be bad, but it is not delivered, shouted, with the Voice of Doom. There are no car crashes. If there are scandals, the people involved are interviewed with no rush to judgment. If the city council is wrestling with a decision, again there are interviews, including experts and everyday citizens, and the issue is analyzed from several points of view. A special arts reporter features a new play or art exhibit. An education reporter introduces an innovative school or program. A science and technology reporter keeps us up-to-date on San Diego’s thriving hi-tech and bio-tech industries. A bilingual reporter brings us news that affects our city from across the Mexican border 20 miles south.
This 5 o’clock broadcast used to be even better. The anchors took more time to interview guests in the studio. Sometimes two experts with opposing opinions argued. It was always interesting. To me, anyway, perhaps not to enough other viewers. Because a few months ago, they dropped that format and speeded up everything. It’s still a lot saner and substantive than mainstream media news. The men and women anchors and reporters range in age from young to older and the women dress attractively but professionally.
EXCEPT the weather woman. For some reason, even though the local PBS station never included a weather report before, they had to bring in a shrill, wind-up doll to forecast the worst. Streets are flooding! Sharks are circling! Heat wave sizzling our brains and canyons. Plague of locusts arriving any minute.