That’s Not News


Confession, I watch way too much television news, everything from CNN, to network news, to my local yokel news. I indulge in TV news because it’s there, it’s easy, and I can keep the sound turned down and it becomes more like wallpaper.

When I was a print journalist, TV reporters were almost universally hated by my colleagues in the newspaper press. Why? Because so often it’s newspaper reporters who break the news, but TV reporters who get the credit for it. How does this happen? It happens when a newspaper reporter does some good digging and comes up with a story that gets printed in the morning paper. That same morning, over at the TV station, a news producer picks up the paper, sees the story and assigns a TV reporter to go out and cover it. That evening on the news, a mass audience, many of whom didn’t read the paper, see the TV story and assume the resourceful TV reporter is breaking this news.

But lately TV news has gotten even worse, Not only does TV not initiate many news stories, it has devolved to banter between TV reporters. Channels like CNN spend an inordinate amount of time having reporters interview each other. The problem with this is that news reporters are in no way news sources. They’re knowledgeable, opinionated, and even sometimes insightful, but, at their best, they are just analysts, going back over information already available.

Please note that print journalists never do this. Can you imagine a newspaper writer quoting another newspaper person in a story? Doesn’t happen, ever. Newspaper writers quote news sources, fill their stories with as many facts as they can gather and leave the endless bullshit for people in line at Wal-Mart. They don’t air it in their news vehicle.

But on CNN, tune in any morning to see Soledad O’Brien convene her panel of jokers and pundits to tell you what to think about the news. That’s the strength of today’s TV news, all the way from the local to the biggest channels like CNN. They  might not find much news with their vast operation, but they spare the viewer the effort of thinking about it. Their on-air personalities do that for you.

In fact, CNN has now hired a whole corps of people whose job is to come on and jabber about the news. Of course, it’s a lot easier to get one of your employees on the air than it is to go out and find a real news source like a public official or someone actually involved in a news event. It’s fluff television, but it’s not really news. It’s some kind of perversion of news labeled as news, but really, it’s just talk from professional talkers.

As a viewer of news, you know you’re in for it when they put up one of those six-shots, or whatever they call it, when you see a bunch of faces on your screen with a coddling moderator like say Carol Costello on CNN and she goes around to all the people in the little rectangles and pretends like they’re saying really profound things.

Meanwhile, the news goes on, stories go unreported, the dirt gets swept under the rug, the corruption goes undetected, because the watchdog isn’t watching. It’s sniffing the rear end of another watchdog.

The worst part is that major news stories are being ignored so CNN and the media in general can devote massive time blocks to broken down cruise ships, celebrity news and the Jodi Arias murder trail.

Example: Did you know that an estimated 10,000 people have died of starvation because of a famine in North Korea? Did you know that some people there are so desperate for food they are digging up dead bodies and eating them or killing their own children and eating or selling the meat?

This shocking story has gone pretty much unreported on CNN. Only the print press seems to think it’s worthy of exposure.

I don’t think TV news is going to get any better. It’s becoming a bastard mix of entertainment and news. It will survive and people will consume it the same way they consume light beer. hot pockets, or audio books. It will give you the feeling you’re following  the news, even if you’re not. CNN anchors and reporters aren’t journalists, but they play them on TV.

But for those of us who want real news, the net will increasingly become our source for information. You can easily access the best stories from the best newspapers and magazines with a couple of clicks. And you get mostly straight information, researched by real journalists, citing real sources, attributed and solid. And you can decide for  yourself what to think about the events, instead of letting CNN do it for you.

Colvin, Ochlik killed in Syria

Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik

As a former journalist I was hit hard today by the deaths of two journalists in Homs, Syria. Marie Colvin, an American journalist and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed when the media center in which they were working was struck by artillery fire.

Just last night I listened to Colvin being interviewed about the horror in Syria on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. She was telling the heartbreaking story of a young boy who had been killed by artillery fire when it struck his apartment. Ochlik’s video of the boy struggling to breathe just before he died brought tears to my eyes.

This was the kind of story Colvin often focused on, tales of women and children, innocent victims caught in the crossfire of an ugly war. It takes real courage to go into war zones and risk your lives so the world can know what’s going on. Now she and Oclik have joined the tens of thousands of other victims of this tragic conflict.

She had already lost an eye covering the guerrilla uprising in Sri Lanka, but that didn’t stop her from continuing to go into hell holes around the world and practice her craft.

Ochlik, who was only 29, was an award-winning photographer whose lens had captured tumultuous scenes in Haiti, Congo, Tunisia, and Libya before he came to Syria.

Americans venerate our soldiers, sailors and airmen who put their lives on the line in foreign conflicts, as well we should. I think we also should esteem the journalists who are armed with no more than a computer or a camera. They are our eyes and ears in places we can’t go, wouldn’t want to go, but need to know about. Without them, we are blind and deaf to what is going on around the planet.