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.
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.
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.
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.
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.