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Jim Downey's Rants & Raves
Poorly Prepared Tripe
I subscribe to several online news resources, including The Providence Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, BBC and PBS. It is my habit to browse these media outlets and contrast the reporting and coverage. I figure that the more sources of the "news" I am able to use, the more likely it will be that some of it might actually be real, genuine and truthful.

Many people on either extreme of the political spectrum will complain about the way in which the media covers the events of the day. Notice that I did not say “cover the news.” For the most part there are few media outlets that really cover news. We don’t want news. The media outlets are acutely aware of that fact. The media decision-makers are aware that we want to be entertained, subjected to bombardments of advertisers, and we want it all in meaningless bites of sound, print or media (and in some cases all three) lasting between 8-30 seconds. Anything more would annoy us, bore us, or incite us to think. We certainly want these media power-brokers to monitor our levels of annoyance, boredom and lack of critical analysis.

Today, I was doing some of my usual browsing and found several articles on the leak from the White House; the government enforcing a law that will cause colleges to become extensions of our law enforcement agencies (and drive the cost of college up); more news regarding the lack of planning and logistics in Iraq; more analysis on the problems with emergency preparedness in the face of terror or disaster; and the like. (For those of you who are used to reading only at the 5th or 6th grade level that most newspapers offer, that last sentence must have been tough.)

The problem is that almost none of what I read, saw or heard was really news. Sure, it had some news, but most of it was a re-hash, re-write, or regurgitation of what I have been reading for months. The lack of original content in our news coming out of the majority of media outlets is striking. Almost every media outlet covers the same stories in the same manner at the same time. If it is a slow news day (which is hard to imagine in a world as busy as ours), the news editors and producers will trot out a story that was covered six months to a year ago, update it in the least possible manner, slap on an attention-getting banner or promo, and call it news.

I do not know how many “news” pieces I have read, seen or heard regarding studies on coffee, cigarettes, vegetables, or exercise. Take the health stories that talk about maintaining fiber in the diet. Over the last year or so there have been at least a dozen or so stories—all covering the same material covered in the last time this story was paraded out before us—on the benefits of fiber in the diet. The funny thing is that my grandmother, who passed away in 1972, told me about the value of maintaining “roughage” in the diet when I was about five years old. How is it that this topic gets to be included in the concept of “news” if my grandmother new about it over 40 years ago. Did we somehow forget that fiber was necessary in our diets? Did we forget that oatmeal was a good way to start the day because it offered complex carbs and high fiber? Did we not see our parents and grandparents eat bran muffins, bran flakes, corn, cabbage, broccolli, celery and other fibrous edibles?

Then, too, we seem to have an over abundance of celebrity news stories. Is the relationship between Demi and Ashton really news? Don’t we have enough stories regarding interpersonal relationships in our families, neighborhoods and soap operas to keep us filled with intrigue for months to come? Is the fact that Michael Jackson seems a bit odd in comparison with the rest of humanity news? Was OJ’s trial really worth networks being tied up for months? Does anyone care if Robert Blake is a weird little man (c.f. “Electraglide in Blue”)? Do we need another story telling us how bad our schools are doing in comparison to other industrialized countries? Are we surprised that there is corruption in the political machinations of Boston, New York or Chicago?

So how do we determine what is or is not news? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is that WE can’t. Yes, technically the airwaves, space and even the press belong to the people in some sense. But the corporate interests have usurped our communications avenues and venues out from under our feet. The FCC, which is supposed to look out for our best interests in managing the television, radio and satellite transmissions, is almost as broken as FEMA, TSA and Homeland Security. The reality of our media is that an elite group of people control our news. While hiding behind the face of large corporations, but many of them barely take notice that what they offer is equivalent to what my dog does in my yard about six times a day.

The quality of most television, including the so-called award-winning news programs, is refuse. The profession of journalism is imbued with commercialism. While we have some well-written and well-executed dramas, sitcoms and other programs, the drive to make MORE money than God has cut the programming time to about 38 minutes per hour. Even when we turn on cable or satellite programming, and just by chance a good program is offered, the programming is edited to shreds, interrupted with commercials on everything from apples to enlarging sexual organs, and aired so many times in a 3-day time frame that we are bored to tears with shows we once waited in long lines to see. In the last week I have had 150 opportunities to see “The Godfather, Part II.” I really like Coppola’s Godfather movies… just not that much.

One would think that with all that is happening in our world that the news outlets could dig deep into the issues and air news that is meaningful. One would think that with all the talent and creative energy that we have in the television and film industry, we could have more than 13 weeks of a show before it is a) put into re-runs, b) rebroadcast on cable network stations, or c) shoved into syndication. Think of all the good shows we see that are treated in this manner.

Mash—an outstanding comedy that offers entertainment, comedy, values and heart-tugging drama… but most of us know every episode by rote because its aired 37 times everyday (I only exaggerate a little bit).

Law & Order—an excellent police/court drama… but must TNT air it 8 times a day?

Law & Order Criminal Intent—again, an excellent police/crime drama… but 6 times a day eats at your brain.

Law & Order SVU—award-winning stories and performances… putting me to sleep because its old hat.

Star Trek—a 1960s classic aired so often on the SciFi Channel that it loses its appeal.

Star Trek DS9—aired twice daily on Spike… and boring most of us three times as much because we see the stories so often.

Star Trek TNG—a model on how organizations, corporations and governments ought to work; a visual examination of ethics, human interactions, basic values, first principles… and the seat of television boredom three times every afternoon.

Monk—a fascinating comedy/crime drama that is quirky and entertaining… if you don’t have to watch it seven times a week.

Over There—one of the best war series ever produced that examines the dilemmas, circumstances and effects of war… aired at least three times a week, sometimes the same episode back-to-back.

The Shield—Michael Chiklis demonstrating he really is a fine actor… 6-10 times a week, depending on the network’s inability to sell infomercial time.

In The Heat Of The Night… The Scorpion King… Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, ad nauseum…

It is the same with the news. There is not a fresh approach to the news anywhere. Even what I consider to be the best news program in the US (PBS “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer”) is trimming the edges to get more attention. PBS, which offers some genuinely fine programming, providing you are in a market that airs these programs, has gone corporate as well. Some of the smaller PBS stations do not offer the better programming schedules, so we end up with 3 hours of Charlie Rose. While I find Rose to be an excellent interviewer, anything more than 30 minutes of an interview is somewhat redundant.

The broadcast network news is repetitive. The morning network news magazines are so redundant that I could write the scripts for the next 5 weeks of shows just by randomly re-visiting 25 shows from that last ten years. The time frame won’t matter because they re-hash the same stuff. Sometimes they change chefs, but the recipes are almost the same.

Newspapers are so boring the only things I use them for are training puppies to be house-broken and job searches. The online versions have become as bad as the broadcast media—short bursts of meaningless drivel covering issues and concerns that don’t seem to really matter. Besides, if you can find an article amongst all the advertising space you’re a better person than I. Then we have the tabloids. The only thing that we can say good about the tabloids is that some of them are honest enough to not call themselves newspapers. Joseph Pulitzer would be pleased that we have rid ourselves of "yellow journalism" and improved the profession.

Radio has the advantage of offering music on most stations, but the talk shows have been driven into drivel with the likes of Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, Imus and the like. Even Christian broadcasts are subject to the drivel effect, offering nothing of value to the body of listeners except solicitations for more money so the drivel can continue.

Our media has become as mediocre as anything else in our society. We do not seem to object to the fact that an elite group of people are making decisions as to what we see, hear or read. We slough ourselves onto the couch, into our easy chairs, or into a kitchen chair to read, watch or listen to tripe… and that tripe is poorly prepared.
October 23rd, 2005 @ 11:45AM

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