This baby boomer has had it with the erosion of TV news

Every day of the week, all you have to do is turn on a television news program to see how the world of news coverage has changed since baby boomers were kids. And according to BoomerCafé’s co-founder and publisher David Henderson, it sure hasn’t changed for the better.

On the recent election night in the United States, I found myself surfing between channels in an effort to find substantive news as opposed to opinion and speculation.

There was Judy Woodruff, a 72-year-old baby boomer on PBS NewsHour, reporting House race results yet because she was on the air and unable to stop to do backup research, clearly lacking details that her off-camera producers should have been giving her as backup, such as where a candidate’s district was located and any information about the candidate that might actually enlighten her audience. I wrote it off to ill-informed and poorly prepared behind-the-scenes journalists talking to her through an earpiece, or “IFB” (for “interrupted feedback”) in TV news lingo.

There were Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie on NBC … even though Lester neglected to introduce her at the start of the broadcast. Have you noticed how noisy NBC News is? Trumpets repeatedly blaring and loud whooshing sounds, sort of like a powerful toilet flushing.

There was Wolf Blitzer on CNN saying something inconsequential and Brian Williams on MSNBC trying to say “breaking news” for the umpteenth time.

Steve Kornacki at NBC News … waving his arms.

There was a fellow named Steve Kornacki on MSNBC who constantly and wildly waved his arms for no apparent reason, reminding me of the legendary Crazy Eddie on TV to promote his appliance stores in the Northeast in the 1970s.

Through staged events by some Fox News pundit named Hannity to fawn over the president and others on the channel all but acknowledging that their coverage is more like propaganda, it’s settled  — in my mind, at least — that Fox News is not about news but about pushing Republican agendas, complete with its well-known covey of blonde cheerleaders in sleeveless dresses.

Hannity on the right.

The Associated Press, the nation’s top newswire service, had teamed with Fox, and their combined predictions and results would be shared with the other news networks and cable shows. I’m still trying to get my head around that.

Why would all the news organizations essentially pool election coverage when each has an army of pollsters, producers, experts, and staff members focused on coverage?

I thought back to another time … the days of Walter Cronkite at CBS News, John Chancellor at NBC News, and Frank Reynolds or Harry Reasoner at ABC News. With Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings maintaining the tradition after them. Like other baby boomers, I’d grown up watching Cronkite deliver the evening news, and was fortunate to subsequently work at CBS News while “The most trusted man in America” was still at the helm.

Walter Cronkite

It was a far more collegial, respectful time. Each news organization was staffed with veteran journalists, many former newspaper editors and reporters, with seemingly fathomless expertise and knowledge. They anticipated questions viewers might have while supplying news anchors with backgrounds. 

David Henderson

As for us reporters, no one would dare ask such questions as “Do you think” that are so common today. The tenets of journalism guided us so that questions began with “how,” “when,” “what,” and “why.” “Why” was my favorite because it frequently helped to cut to the core of an interview. Such words helped to report meaningful and informative news. “Why are you claiming this?” or “Why did you do that?” “Why do you believe Nixon is a crook?” “Why” is a word with so many facets yet seldom used in today’s “Do you think?” age of news.  The wonderful and revealing element of curiosity is missing in news today.

Aside from wanting to share these thoughts with my fellow boomers, I’m content in knowing that my career in news thankfully came before the advent of “entertainment-driven” news with all of its contrived noise, theatrics, hype, and shallowness.

And, I must admit, bored with the lack of substance in election coverage, my wife and I turned to an episode of Midsomer Murders on Netflix where Inspector Barnaby solved another series of crimes.

But while watching Inspector Barnaby is just plain entertaining, I can’t get the theatrics I found on TV news out of my mind. Who do they think their viewers are? Surveys suggest young people don’t watch the news and get informed in their own individual silos through digital apps. The networks don’t seem to be targeting middle-age viewers judging by the commercials for ailments, pharmaceuticals, and Medicare supplemental insurance that clearly targets an older audience… like me.

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11 Comments

  1. David,

    Many of the same thoughts ran through my aging ex-news directors head for the past few months. I long for the days when political ads were excluded from the body of the news cast. I remember a shouting match between the news director and sales manager regarding the growing cost of news and the potential to cover some of that expense with political ads. You know who lost, the American Public. Regarding yesterdays confrontation with Trump, I am imagining a day when the Whiter House Press Corps says ENOUGH! and boycotts this man’s big show. I think Trump called on the CNN reporter and had planned all along to yell at him and make a scene. Then pulling his White House pass, just one more act in the Circus.

    1. “Regarding yesterdays confrontation with Trump, I am imagining a day when the Whiter House Press Corps says ENOUGH! and boycotts this man’s big show. ” Well, I saw the same clip and came to a very different conclusion. The term, damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. If Trump had ignored Acosta, you’d probably be calling for a boycott of the President’s news conference as well. But my take on that conference. One of the things we’re seeing daily now is mobs, mobs in newsrooms (they call them panels), maybe seven individuals, in suits and skirts, but mobs just the same, because they are all motivated by one thing — their hatred of President Trump — and they are mobs because they are of one mind: “Well, tell me Frank, what do you think of Trumps…” FRANK: “Well, Chet, I think he’s Hitler. Only Hitler could do what he does.” DAN stands up. “No, Frank. He’s Stalin… and I’m shaking in my boots over here for when he will round up all minorities and women, and put them in camps.” STELLA: “Stop, Frank and Chet… You’re both wrong: he’s Satan.” Okay, so there’s one mob.

      And then we have the mobile -renta mobs, like the ones we saw at the Kavanaugh hearing. How did they get in there? Who paid for their performances? How transported them to Washington? Now we have mobs appearing nightly at Tucker Carlson’s house, braying for his hide, and that of his children and wife. And we have Mad Max-ine Waters telling people that they should get a group together when a republican shows up at the supermarket or the gas station, and follow them and tell them that they are not welcome.

      My point… We have mobs now, like we’ve never had them before, and so far, they’re just on the democrat side. But if the democrat left keeps on pushing, you’re going to see Rightish mobs appearing to combat the leftist mobs. There are people already calling for civil war, hollywood jerks proclaiming that, ‘if we (democrats) don’t win, there’s gonna be blood in the streets. We have Newspeople BANNING the word ‘MOB’ on their station. Got too many mobs, mobs popping and their democrat mobs? Well, just ban the word ‘mobs.’

      And my final point. That bunch of bozos that you call the White House press corp is a MOB. That’s right. When Acosta asked his question, he got a response. Decorum and tradition dictates that when the president is finished, he look elsewhere and point to someone else. But mad dog Acosta, apparent leader of the suited mob, refused to give it up, refused to hand the mike to the intern, kept dogging the president, kept harrying him. If this was two men in a school yard, they would’ve been fighting at this point. You don’t corner someone and harass them and get ‘discussion.’ Finally, Acosta shuts up, after they take his mike, and the next question is something like: Mr. President, you said you were a Nationalist. Well, everyone KNOWS that a Nationalist is a racist. (Really? Since when? When did they change the definition?) So Mister President, why do you hate people of color?

      This is not a news corp, not even a newz corpse. It’s a mob, in my opinion.

      And finally, if the White House Newz Mob boycotts the President’s conference, on big loss except to bozos who think accusations of racism, Fascism, Stalinism, sexism, etcism is newz.

      And no, I don’t think that going back to a Cronkite-like Big Brother news Reader is the answer. After all, rightly or wrongly, it is generally agreed nowadays that Cronkite signaled our surrender in Vietnam. (before you rush to the keyboard, I did say rightly or wrongly, that is the war was right or wrong, regardless of intent). My point is that we have a representative government that is supposed to decide these issues of war and peace, taxes and policy, not a kindly (or not) grandfatherly News Reader.

        1. Amen to Carol.

          As for news coverage, I admit I prefer the coverage of the old guard, but times have changed with numerous TV channels, the proliferation of talk radio, and the growing emergence of the Internet. I recall when TV news was about 15 minutes, expanded to 30, and now has 24-hour news channels. Who knows what the next 5, 10, 20 years will bring?

          As for Steve Kornacki, I didn’t know what to think of him during the 2016 returns but I’ve grown to like him. Why? Because he is so energetic and enthusiastic and truly loves his job. I’m sure he’ll slow down in the coming years as we all do, but he’s a breath of fresh air. There are other young, talented journalists out there, not only on TV, but at newspapers, magazines, radio, and the new media.

    1. OMG That’s funny! Thanks Bill!

      And David, spot on. Half or more of the demographic you refer to (the boomers) doesn’t trust any of the news. They’re reporting opinions, not facts.

  2. So newscasters should stick to nothing but the facts while they report on one opinion after the other coming from the politicians. If a politician is lying, the newscaster should have no right to question the validity of their facts. In this scenario, politicians become the only ones who define what the truth is because they are allowed to deal in their own, often self-serving reality, while newscasters must stay only with the facts—nothing but the facts.

    It is the job of the viewer to determine what they believe the truth to be. I for one, appreciate a discussion of the facts and opinions from many points of view. But I also feel that I am the one who has to make the final decision on what to believe.

    Your opinion sounds a lot like you want politicians to have the right to make up whatever they want and never have a newsperson challenge them. Not the system I want.

    1. Dave,
      I’ve read your comments and I’m having trouble understanding how what you say relates to my commentary on BoomerCafe.com. I’m not suggesting limiting free speech or the media or how reporters might interact with politicians. I’m writing about the constant drone of drivel from pundits, theatrics in the guise of “news” and so-called entertainment-oriented news. I invite you to explain further. And, thanks.
      David

    2. As David H. said: The tenets of journalism guided us so that questions began with “how,” “when,” “what,” and “why.”
      Getting down to the facts, or uncovering the lies. Or “misinformation”. Opinions? Everybody has one. “That, and a quarter, will get you a cup of coffee.” So true.

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