Damn, that Jeff Powers is one serious news dude. You're sitting in the beanbag, watching the 10 p.m. news on KSWB-TV-the channel with Sabrina the Teenage Witch-and you're thinking, “This guy's good.” Ya' have to admire the way he cocks his broad shoulders into the camera, the hair just right, expression serious. You even get a sense that he understands all the big words.
But, you know, dammit, The Andy Griffith Show is on, and it's supposed to be the rare episode when Opie takes an axe and murders Aunt Bee's dog. So, bam, goodbye Jeff.
This is the battle for Jeff and his fellow TV news hounds, and they don't stand a chance. Not only is Opie wreaking his small-town havoc, cable is showing the director's cut of Showgirls.
And ol' Jeff has one other wee problem: local TV news sucks.
This isn't exactly a bolt-of-lightning kind of thought. Everyone knows local TV news sucks and it's sucked for 30 years.
Viewers know the game. The local TV stations' idea of news coverage is to slobber over any home video of a crack addict getting hit with a baseball bat and spend millions to get good-looking dudes and sassy soccer moms to read the news.
They don't admit it publicly, but local news directors program newscasts for people with a ninth grade education, in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator. (Note to local TV news target demographic: lowest common denominator is a math term covered in the 10th grade. Sorry.)
That's just the way it is, highly paid TV news directors say-they're just giving people what they want.
Except there is an evil little twist to their logic-the more they try to give people what they want, the less people watch. Around the country, local news viewership continues to swirl into the toilet.
It's not hard to figure out why. Smart, involved people-the people who might actually be interested in local news-know local TV news sucks. And everyone else, after careful thought, decides they'd rather watch lesbian strippers on Howard Stern's E! show.
Columbia University's “Project for Excellence in Journalism” recently completed an exhaustive study of local TV news, and, after careful scientific analysis of the data, the experts concluded that local TV news does, in fact, suck. The prologue is titled, “On the Road to Irrelevance,” which pretty well sums it up.
After studying thousands of newscasts, researchers concluded local TV news is actually getting worse, now that real reporting “has all but disappeared from local TV news.”
San Diego wasn't specifically covered in the report, but it sure sounds like the Columbia gang was hanging out at Olé Madrid sipping sangria and watching San Diego's hard chargin' TV news troops.
The investigators were dumbstruck to find that not even Arab terrorists blowing up the World Trade Center could get the local TV news operations to break their formula.
“Local TV news continues instead to be a surrogate rubbernecker, taking us to crime scenes, murder trials and traffic accidents, where we can do little but gawk,” the reports says. “Not even a generation-defining event like September 11 has changed that.”
While that conclusion is worthy of a “well, duh,” the real revelation was that news directors actually know their newscasts suck. In a survey of 103 newsroom leaders nationwide, more than half said they believe local TV news coverage is on the “wrong track,” while only a third said it is on the right track.
The report also included statistical evidence suggesting that lifting the quality of newscasts actually improves ratings-a radical thought. Specifically, the study concludes that more investigative reports, longer stories and more community coverage will generate better ratings than the nightly crime log.
Considering that more and more people think local TV news sucks, you'd think this might spark a few ideas in newsroom cappuccino meetings.
But this type of talk generates massive shrugs in the ranks of San Diego news directors. Hell, they know their newscasts suck. But they pay consultants big money to tell them the best plan is to hire the weather girl from Yuma to read the news.
In their wisdom, the local stations have done exactly the opposite of what the report recommends. Channel 8 decided to improve its product by cutting its investigative unit. Shrewd move.
Faced with declining ratings and a high “this sucks” quotient, the stations have slashed their budgets and flooded the airwaves with inexperienced reporters who think Carlsbad is in New Mexico. Their idea of an investigative story is to read Page 2 of the metro section of the U-T. They fill time by going live to places where nothing is happening. When ratings time comes around, they throw in a few penile-implant stories.
At a time when they should be desperate to set themselves apart, the local stations religiously follow the same formula, resulting in newscasts that all look alike, with weather coming at :17 after the hour and sports following six minutes later.
Laying in the beanbag, ya' might think Jeff Powers is a damn hunky surfer, but it's not like you're going to adjust your nightly routine to make sure you catch his take on the local economy.
The local TV news dudes aren't fooling anybody. They've given up. They say this is the system and that's just the way it is.
Meanwhile, ya' flip to Opie, knowing you might actually consider watching the local news-if it sucked even just a little less.