TV news looking over its shoulder


Beyond the arrogance lies ... irrelevance? The former could portend the latter, TV news-wise.

Seemingly forever now, KVBC-TV, Channel 3, has boasted that "we're watching out for you," condescending to viewers as if they're a protective lioness and we're the helpless, hapless cubs. It's a patronizing attitude -- hey, just give us the news and we'll look after ourselves, OK, Dad?

But it's a mind-set shared by many local stations throughout the nation to varying degrees of self-aggrandizement -- and self-delusion -- that they can no longer afford in the a la carte media world forged by instant info online, bloggers, galloping technology and shifts to news with 'tude.

Media critic Howard Kurtz nailed it when he wrote: "Reporters may once have been champions of the little guy. Now they're part of a smug insider culture that many Americans have come to resent."

Newspapers also are flailing around in this fractured media-verse, hemorrhaging advertisers and readers. But television is the news biz's most pronounced public face, and multiplying newscasts until we're numb won't inoculate them from dizzying media trends spreading like a fever.

Traditional TV news is an institution to older viewers, complaints notwithstanding. It's a passive experience with an implicit acceptance of imbalance: Those in the know hand down knowledge to those who want to know. Simply being on TV bestows special status on news-givers.

But younger news consumers were raised peeking behind the curtain, savvy to marketing ploys and aware of media not as some mysterious monolith, but merely an array of info-gathering tools. They create and control their own info flow. YouTube, webcams and reality shows democratize being on camera. In this media environment, TV news as Voice of Authority and Protector of the Realm is pompous, pretentious and easily dismissed.

Teasers are less tolerable to a generation getting quick news hits off BlackBerrys, laptops and cell phones. Who'll patiently abide by stories spooned out in a prescribed order by old-school TV when a menu of choices turns information consumption into all-you-can-eat news buffets? Alarmist headlines crafted out of maybes -- fires that could spread (the headline) but actually don't (the story) or downpours that could drench the valley (headline) but really don't (story) -- are nakedly transparent to these viewers so hip to hype.

And beyond how news is watched are rumbles of what news may become. Though they're still no ratings match for network news and are ideological echo chambers allergic to objective debate, the advocacy journalism bubbling on cable, such as Fox News on the right and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on the left, consistently trend upward, especially among younger viewers.

Yes, newscasters are "watching out for you." They're like someone who pushes you out of the path of a car to safety, turns around and gets flattened by a truck.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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