Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Show About Nothing

Once again, not surprisingly, there was no Nightly News last Saturday. Obviously, college football is more important to NBC than news. By "more important", of course, I mean "more profitable". But I have to wonder why NBC bothers to air a weekend edition of Nightly News at all. Last Sunday's broadcast was so devoid of any actual news that it didn't seem worth showing, despite the fact that it had been 48 hours since Nightly News had last aired. Sunday's broadcast led off, of course, with a three-and-a-half-minute story about the latest exploits of the balloon boy and his family. (So far, Nightly News has aired a total of thirteen minutes and forty seconds worth of stories about the balloon boy, which is only 32 seconds less than they devoted to Susan Boyle stories last April and May. But my money's on the balloon boy to soon overtake Boyle.) A shorter piece on health care followed, but it was just a recap of the past week's events. Other than a few brief quotes from the Sunday morning talk shows, there was no new information. Then Michelle Franzen spent nearly two minutes reporting the weather. I'm not quite sure why a national news show is broadcasting the weather, since most people get the weather from their local news. I guess NBC has to find some way to justify their purchase of The Weather Channel. Next, Lester Holt spent all of 20 seconds telling us about a suicide bomb in Iran that killed 42 people. Stephanie Gosk then reported from Pakistan, but her report was just a rehashing of the past week's events. (If Gosk's name doesn't ring a bell, viewers may recall her in-depth three-minute "news report" about the discomfort of wearing high-heeled shoes that aired on the June 24 Nightly News). A story about the Swine Flu presented no new information, but tried hard to scare us. We were then treated to a three-minute story about the 20th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake. Not exactly breaking news. Finally, we got a story about a painting that was determined to be a previously unknown Leonardo da Vinci. Interesting story, but not really news. And that was Sunday's Nightly News. The actual news from that broadcast could have fit into a two-minute segment. So if this is NBC's concept of weekend news, maybe we'd all be better off without it.

Interestingly, Dan rather was interviewed by Matt Frei on Friday's edition of BBC World News America. Rather spoke about the balloon boy story, and the state of network news in general. Here is some of what he said: "The pressure for demographics and ratings--don't be out of step--don't be old-fashioned--is extremely strong in nearly every news organization." "But if you weigh that [the balloon boy story] against what's happening with the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan--really important news--it speaks to the trivialization of news...and I don't think it speaks well for American journalism." "What's missing here is that sense of news being a public trust and news being a public trust should be operated at least some of the time in the public interest--not just in the profit interest." Rather didn't specifically mention NBC News by name, but then again he didn't have to.

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