Friday, May 01, 2009


Yesterday was a treat. Many of our calls were from people who had worked themselves into a fine swine flu mindset - thanks to our news media. I suspect, had the news reported the symptoms of H1N1 manifest as broken legs, we would have had ran out of leg splints by lunch.

The swelling news theme music and awesome video effects made me want to join the parade too, but it seemed like a lot of work.

When KXLY showed a map of suspected flu cases in the Inland Empire, there was one red dot on Spokane and another on Coeur d'Alene. They made the dots three times the size of the actual cities themselves. So large were they that they touched and formed a set of red Double-Ds straddling the border.

Yes, this flu is newsworthy and it's great to look for the local angle. But, as I have noticed many times in local reporting, there is an overriding narrative, and once they decide what that's going to be, facts contrary to that predetermined narrative are excluded from the story. It's called "branding" in marketing. It helps simplify the message. It's containable. It's comfortable for the consumer. It is terrible news reporting. In fact, it is terrible story telling. I can't imagine reading a novel or watching a movie that would be so blatantly unnuanced. It's dull. Most importantly, it's not telling the truth.

Case in point. Yesterday, we kept hearing about the death of the child in Texas - how she was SHOPPING AT THE MALL and fell ill. We never heard that this child was from Mexico and was brought to Texas from Mexico for her treatment (and, unfortunately, ultimately to die). What about the 168 dead in Mexico from this flu? Well, a couple of days ago, the number was revised to 12. Not a lot of news around this. Why? Because it doesn't fit the predetermined narrative/branding. And the stories from the local school that was not going to shut down because there was no threat were bizarre. This flu is proving to be about the least deadly and least transmittable of any flu we've seen in years. Now, there's a story. Also there's a story in how all these agencies are seamlessly working together, even if this is a nonevent. It's good practice and great news, and especially welcome after eight years of debacle.

I feel sorry for some of our local reporters. Sometimes when they report a story, they look like they are being held hostage. Other times, they look like they know the story is a joke, and they are doing all they can to keep from laughing. I don't envy all the work and stress these folks have had to endure to get where they are now, only to report on "Office Christmas Party Tips"*

If there were a station that had local news for adults who want to become informed, I would tune in every night. Five minutes for sports. Five minutes for weather and the rest of the time could be spent educating on local politics and issues.

When I was a kid (old man rant), the news sought to educate. We were all thankful that we learned something after watching. Now, I think the "news" has to make people feel secure in their bias and their ignorance, or else viewers will feel angry and turn the channel. Some of us wouldn't. How about you local disgruntled reporters and execs teaming up to give Spokane one-half hour of news every night that is truly news?

*OK. Office Christmas Party Tips. This one was on a few years ago. The "news" story lasted about five minutes. Had graphics. The whole enchilada. What were these tips? 1. Don't drink too much. 2. Dress appropriately. 3. Remember to mingle. I don't think they even had to consult wikipedia for this segment.


Hank said...

Well said. If TV news was a subscription like the newspaper I would've cancelled mine a long time ago.

Pat S said...

Nice, thoughtful post. Sad truths. It used to be so great to catch the "news" at the end of the day.

Those red dots are pretty hilarious.

Jacque Hendrix said...

Yikes! I've been on vacation for two weeks and am now home. I didn't even think about the people that'll call 911 for the "Swine Flu". There goes a few nights sleep.

911 Operator: "911, what is your emergency?"

Caller: "Aaaaaa! My wife, she kissed the pig and now I think she has the swine flu!"

911 Operator: "One moment sir, I'm going to transfer you to the Fire Department"


I could go on and on.... Ahh, the life as a firefighter. Love it.