As a 20-year-old college student without a television, I do not watch the local news. And truthfully, if I had a TV, chances are that I still would not watch the news. When I was a child, I speculated that enjoying the news was an acquired taste, and that I would, at some point, have a burning desire to learn about what was going on in my community. …not true. It’s not that I don’t care about local events – I like to be in the know as much as the next guy. What drives me crazy is the use of sensationalism in the news, and while a degree of sensationalism is present in nearly all forms of media, local news is the worst. It has the power to leave me with the gnawing feeling that I know less after watching the stories than I did before I turned on the TV. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the reporters seem to gush about… well, nothing… but they emphasize EVERYTHING they can to make it seem as thrillingas possible. Take it down a notch, sister. We haven’t all had our morning coffee.
Obviously I understand that having an engaging, enthusiastic reporter is essential in attracting and maintaining an audience’s interest in any kind of story. If the reporter doesn’t care, then the audience probably won’t care either. But imposing such an extreme sense of urgency, excitement, or intensity on a relatively neutral situation is just a little awkward and embarrassing – for both the reporter and the viewer. And honestly, it’s not just the animated reporters that contribute to the hype of what most would consider to be a straightforward, no-drama news story. The stories are written that way for a reason; they’re just delivering the punchline.
Written stories in magazines, newspapers, and websites often have just as much drama as television news reports (if not more so). Here is a report about a woman who had an accident in Florida involving a fish jumping into her kayak and injuring her. While quite a few readers would probably be interested by this story without the embellishments, there is a very obvious attempt to use dramatic language to make up for the lack of a verbal emphasis that a viewer would receive through the reporter’s tone and inflection had they been watching television.
In addition to unnecessary hype, sensationalism also involves reporting on stories that really don’t affect anyone; they are just bizarre enough in their own way to attract attention. Here is a story about a woman getting caught breaking into a couple’s house while she was making herself a sandwich in their kitchen. If you don’t put too much thought into it, perhaps you would consider the headline to be amusing enough to earn a quick browse. But think any deeper, and you may find yourself wondering, “with all the things going on in the world politically, environmentally, economically, etc., I am reading about a sandwich burglar..?” It’s trivial and uninformative. And what’s even more concerning than taking time to read the article is actually taking the time to research the story and write it – and label it “news.”
Besides adopting a Klosterman-like attitude, I know that there is not much I can do to revolutionize the local news. We, as a society, are obsessed with the dramatic, weird, and unexpected. We want to be entertained constantly. And despite the fact that I am disgusted by the quality of today’s “news,” I acknowledge that it is the way it is because we indulge in it. If there were a demand for straightforward, cut and dry, matter-of-fact reports on local news stations, then that’s what would be on TV. But the average individual, I suppose, just wants to be informed enough to feel as though they have participated in what’s going on, even if that means watching/reading about a completely exaggerated account of how a cat was rescued from a tree. Everyone gets a happy ending – news stations get viewers, and viewers get a false sense of awareness about the world they live in.