My ex-sometime-colleague Karen Hensel won her second Peabody Award this spring, which was one of two won by Indianapolis TV stations. Indy is, I believe, a top-30 market; Detroit is 11 (again: I believe). My question today: What do we need to do to drop 19 spots?
To call the local newscasts appalling is an insult to other appalling things, like Karl Rove and smallpox. The least-appalling station appeals to about a 13-year-old intellect; the worst (Fox, of course) aims far lower.
I watch Fox.
Actually I don’t “watch” it. But the 10-11 p.m. hour of my shift is frequently the slowest, and sometimes I’ll turn it on for background noise. It follows the usual model — anchor team of blonde woman/black man, live reports from carnage sites, etc. However, it takes its guiding philosophy from “Showgirls,” i.e, when the question is low road or lower, bad choice or worse, dumb stand-up or dumber, they always happily choose door number two. My favorite segment is the Fox 2 Problem Solvers, their “consumer” report. With all the crime, greed, double-dipping and other shenanigans public and private in this city, you’d think they’d have no shortage of material. And yet time and again the bad guy they’re chasing down the street with cameras and microphones is someone who stole a two-figure sum from the muscular dystrophy fishbowl, or gypped a prom couple out of their deposit on the limo.
The absolute nadir was a few weeks ago, when they ripped the lid off some poor old schmuck who was going around town claiming to be the father of Brandon Inge, the Tigers’ third baseman. They had actual hidden-camera footage of this geezer sitting in a restaurant saying, “Yes, he’s my son!” The worst they could pin on him, besides the self-delusion, is that he promised a school group he’d get them free tickets and never came through. It’s painfully clear the old man is just trying to enliven a boring retirement, and here he has this sneering, snarktastic TV hairdo following him to his car, yelling questions at him. You know those “To Catch a Predator” slimefests on “Dateline,” where you kind of end up feeling sorry for the would-be child molesters? This was worse.
So they cut back to the anchor desk, and the two of them are sitting there with expressions like your dog gets when he hears a funny noise, like they’re trying to figure out the proper reaction, but can’t….quite….do it.
Finally, the male anchor says, “I think he needs counseling.” I loved it.
I’ve written before about missing the simple, entry-level training ground of the Fort Wayne TV news market, where reporters are so fresh out of college you can still smell the spilled beer on their clothes, and they make entertaining, puppylike mistakes such as mispronouncing famous place names, misspelling the mayor’s name in the supers and inserting “controversial” in their scripts every five words or so, just to make sure we all understand they’re covering an important story. I’m learning to love the slicker product of the big city.
One of the stations sent its investigative guy, who is flabby and unattractive and famous for getting roughed up on camera by the mayor’s security team, to a public pension-fund conference last month. It turns out Michigan, which is rapidly turning into Mississippi in terms of its economy and public-sector funding crises, sent the nation’s biggest contingent — something like 20 public servants, traveling on the taxpayer’s dime — to this conference.
Which was in Hawaii. Did I mention that?
Aloha! And there’s the flabby TV guy, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, lei and straw hat, bird-dogging these folks around Honolulu. Amusingly, the conference consisted of morning educational sessions, followed by lunch, followed by afternoons left entirely open for “networking,” i.e., shopping and lying on Waikiki Beach. Oh, it was rich, my friends. Seldom has government waste looked so amusing.
OK, so, do we have bloggage?
The Spokesman-Review in Spokane decided not to pick up Randy Cohen’s “The Ethicist” column, after discovering he gave money to MoveOn.org, revealed in that MSNBC story we were discussing yesterday. The Spokesman-review folks were nice to me when I was writing my Big Newspaper Essay last year, and I’m not going to poke them for it — it’s their paper. But I was struck by one phrase in their blog item on the decision yesterday:
After months of discussion, we were prepared to start this Saturday publishing…
That’s the newspaper business, right there. And you wonder why I’m glad I’m not in it anymore.
Have a swell day, folks. And weekend.