Thursday, October 16, 2014

D/FW Local News Ebola Coverage

Anyone who follows this blog or me on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or Tumblr knows I hate the way news is now covered on TV. This applies to almost all TV news outlets. It doesn't matter if it is network or cable, international, national or local. They all suck. Most of what we get is superficial and sensationalized. There is no distinction between facts, conjecture, opinion and agenda. Hopefully you all know that Fox News and MSNBC are the worst offenders but they are not alone. 

The spark for this post was the local D/FW news coverage this evening of our ongoing Ebola situation. That situation is both a crisis and epidemic according to the news reports. Apparently an epidemic now consists of three patients. While I know there has been substantial national news coverage of this you can imagine the frenzy the local stations have been in since the first case was confirmed in Dallas. It leads every newscast with reporters stationed all over town. They are in front of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, the homes of the victims, the Dallas County Health Department and several other places. I never understood this technique, especially when the reporter is standing in front of an obviously closed and darkened building during the 10:00 news. Maybe they are hoping for a meaningful interview with the janitorial staff. 

On tonight's 6:00 PM newscast on all four local network affiliates we got the exact same coverage for the entire half hour or more. Nina Pham, the first of two nurses to contract Ebola while working at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, was being transported from that hospital to one in Maryland. We saw the entire first leg of that trip via helicopter coverage of the exciting ambulance trip from Texas Health Presbyterian in north Dallas to Love Field. No lights or sirens, just a regular ambulance and a couple of police cars. They went the speed limit or slower and stopped at traffic lights. While this exciting road trip was underway, every station had a smaller box in the lower left of the screen (no variation of screen format among stations) showing the plane she would be getting on. It is a nondescript dark gray Gulfstream jet with no markings. It was just sitting on the tarmac. Every once in a while someone, usually in hazmat gear, would go into or come out of the plane or just loiter at the bottom of the stairs.  My heart was racing at all the excitement.

The pictures were bad enough but that's not the worst of it. Whenever one of these ongoing live coverage things is broadcast the news anchors go off the script and the teleprompters. That is hardly ever a good thing. Today's well coiffed news anchors are usually very good at reading the news, especially in a large market like D/FW. They are also very attractive. What they aren't good at is ad libbing for an entire half hour newscast. They usually wind up fumbling through trying to sound knowledgeable but often showing their ignorance. I wasn't listening that closely but I heard several conjectures and interpretations that don't jive with the known facts. Opinions were mixed in too. 

Most of these local anchors never leave the studio. Maybe years ago they were actually reporters but not recently. The only things they know about the stories is what they read from the teleprompter each night. It is sad but that's what we are stuck with. My guess is that Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley would never get a top news anchor job today. Not attractive enough. Yet, they could go on for hours off script during a crisis and actually impart knowledge and insight about the situation. 

I don't expect this to improve during my lifetime. People are more interested in what a Kardashian is wearing, or divorcing, than any real news. Ebola is kind of important right now because it sounds scary and people can panic over it. Reporting on superficial celebrity crap doesn't require knowledgeable news readers. The intricacies and implications of the Middle East problems, ISIS, immigration, Ukraine and other issues are too complicated. 

It is almost impossible to get good news coverage on TV. The best you can hope for is to find topics that require further research. Read newspapers and search the web. Watch or listen to more PBS news, it is less sensational and more informative, find Al Jazeera or BBC on TV or the web, it will give you a different perspective. If you are a Fox News conservative, watch some MSNBC and vice versa for those on the left. Everybody should watch the Daily Show at least occasionally. If you do a little of this, you will be better informed than that very attractive and well dressed news anchor on the local news and several national news folks too. 

Ebola is a serious illness and we should be concerned but not panic. My biggest concern is that once again our government and institutions have proved incompetent and incapable of doing their jobs. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital lied about their preparedness to handle Ebola cases. The CDC proved again that they rarely know what they are doing or talking about. Congress proved that there is no issue that they can agree on or make political or any mistake that they won't pontificate about and condescendingly crucify those involved with a committee hearing. Never any constructive solutions offered, just posturing and fake outrage. 

So, watch the local news but don't expect any meaningful information other than maybe the weather and traffic. Just pay attention to the fancy set, new hairdo or happy talk between anchors. That's what the news directors and media consultants are focused on.

Gotta go, live coverage of the exciting plane landing in Maryland is coming up on the local 10:00 newscasts.


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