Negative newscasts need to lighten up

Personal, isn’t it?

Newscasts were once viewed from a voyeuristic distance: Someone else murdered. Someone else robbed. Someone else driving the Volvo that made an unsafe lane change on I-15 and wound up a Mack Truck’s hood ornament.

Rubbernecking Central.

But this recession causes such depression that newscasts should come with a Prozac prescription. Stories hammer home loss of jobs-savings-houses for people who aren’t you today, but could be tomorrow. Long lambasted as a litany of negativity, news now feels even more like slickly packaged despair aimed directly at our heebie-jeebie nerve center.

All that’s missing are ads for chocolate-flavored hemlock.

Upbeat stories, mostly slotted as midnewscast pick-me-ups and awww-inspiring show closers, need their own newscast — now, before news becomes flat-out funereal. Think of it as The Good News News Break.

Previous columns suggested punditry and interactivity (the latter being considered by at least one local station) to jolt a stubbornly static news formula at an alarming moment in media history: Though still the favored news source, local-news viewership tumbled from 64 percent to 52 percent from 1998 to 2008, as per the Pew Research Center, the audience backsliding toward an actual minority of Americans. (The ailing newspaper industry desperately needs an injection of inspiration, too.)

Stories soothing our jitters and stoking our optimism as a breakout broadcast would acknowledge, address and partially alleviate viewer fatigue.

On a randomly chosen day and station — March 27 on Channel 13 — such stories lightly sprinkled throughout newscasts could’ve been corralled into their own show while still repeated elsewhere. Between double-digit repeats of CityCenter money woes, a high-school athlete charged with assault, feared school district layoffs and a robbery suspect were reports on …

A party to aid families foreclosed upon. A new fire station. Toy rentals for kids. Hopeful construction workers. Advice on preventing back pain. Eating well for less. Expandable calendar items, including a Nevada Ballet performance, a reminder that local arts — the Philharmonic, community theater and galleries, too — are a deep reserve of enriching stories rarely explored.

As full pieces, that’s Good News News with good news to spare, and Vegas station schedules can accommodate such experimentation. The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2009 media study revealed that in 2007 (the last year for which stats were available), the per-market average of local weekday news was 4.1 hours. By contrast, Channel 3 programs five hours, Channel 13 has five and a half, Channel 8 offers six and Channel 5 leads with six and a half. (Why Vegas out-newses the national average is another column.)

Reporters have the hots for hard news, but a daily dose of one-stop News Lite feels right.

Optimism we can take personally.

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

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