Excerpt: 'The Newsbreaker,' by Larry Garrison

Maybe when asked what I do, my answer should be that I provide the public with the news stories it cannot get enough of -- the kind of stories people talk about at the office water cooler, at hair salons, or over casual lunches. Most of the content is not really that important in the grand scheme of things, but everyone knows the stories because they can't resist their pull. I am not owned by any of the big news organizations anymore. Rather, I supply them with the stories viewers want to know about. If the story and conditions are right, I'll develop it into a book or movie.

The American public's appetite for news has changed drastically over the years, as has the news itself. A few decades ago, fatherly figures on sterile sets provided information on the events of the day and left it to viewers to form an opinion of what was important. They delivered the facts and the public was left to draw its own conclusions. Once in a while, the newscasters gave their opinions, but they clearly stated it was a commentary.

There were no twenty-four-hour news channels, and, aside from the nightly telecasts, most of the news shows were seen Sunday mornings and on the occasional bulletins that are now called breaking stories. News organizations left entertainment to the entertainers that followed the newscast. Somewhere along the way, news moved away from the news and became more of a business, and the priority changed. Ratings are paramount, and it is the American public that drives the ratings war.

News organizations still pride themselves for being accurate, informative, and unbiased; but the ratings war has changed the face of news and the way it operates. Instead of the Walter Cronkites of yesterday, today you see younger and much-more-attractive-than-average newsmen and newswomen reading news scripts into the camera. TV news has become more of a show. News is delivered from elaborate sets, luring viewers to believe that newscasters are sitting in a living room while they sip their morning coffee; or that the newsroom really is right there in the studio, and reporters can actually be seen working diligently in the background. Many times, a ticker tape runs along the bottom of the screen to offer additional news, just in case the story being covered by the talking head isn't good enough to keep the viewer's attention. As they deliver the news, there is more voice inflection here, little comments there -- whatever it takes to keep you tuned to their channel and not the competitor's.

In Cronkite's day, all that was heard in a newscast was the voice of the reporter. Now, when sad stories are reported -- the discovery of the bodies of a young boy and his mother after an extensive search hoping to find them alive, for instance -- you hear mournful music in the background to accentuate the tragedy. There are also the shows that try to sway an individual's thought process as they report the news. This type can be seen just about any time of day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. These shows take current news stories and milk them for all they are worth. The subject matter might be petty, like why movie stars' marriages fall apart. But it can also be much more significant, with far-reaching effects.

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