Local TV news, RIP

It used to keep us informed; now, it’s not even entertaining

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I’d like to be able to watch the local television news- casts, but I can’t. Once upon a time the TV news departments were considered a public service function and we had actual meaningful news.

There were things like a Harrisburg correspondent who kept us in tune with what was happening in state government. There were local beat reporters who informed us as to the goings-on in the city and county governments. I don’t mean that the mayor was seen at the casino or a local bar, but actual meaningful news. There was an investigative reporter who researched for weeks stories that were of major import to the community. These were the days when the news was actually news.

At some point along the way someone came up with the bright idea that the news could be a profit center with commercials and ratings instead of being a public service, and things began to change.

What has evolved is only a faint remnant of what TV used to be and what it still could be if some executives would realize that quality content sells soap. Instead we are bombarded with a barrage of shameless self-promotion for the sake of ratings.

I actually think they spend more time telling us what they are going to tell us than they do actually telling us. Then there is the extremely annoying and endless teasing. If Chicago were hit with a nuclear bomb, the local stations would say, “Find out which major city was wiped off the map today –— details at 11!”

The actual content of the news is woefully lacking. I think that a house fire in some outlying small town belongs in the local community paper, not on the metropolitan 6 p.m. news.

Recently a school bus near Canonsburg slipped a wheel off an icy road, took out a mailbox and shaved a few branches off a pine tree. No one was injured. One local station rushed a camera crew to the scene to show us a picture of the pine tree with a few missing branches. Really? Oh, wait, we can sensationalize this because it’s a school bus and we can tug on the heart- strings because children were involved. I’m sorry, but this isn’t news.

Then there’s the weather. This is Pittsburgh, not Miami. Two inches of snow is not a news event!

If I were a small business owner, I would be quite miffed at having my customers constantly scared into staying home because the local stations want to sensationalize the unsensational instead of spending some money and hiring someone to actually discover things that are newsworthy.

I once watched a news/​weather piece where a reporter and camera crew were stationed at a local mall. As frequently happens, the predicted snow storm never materialized. The reporter was all too happy to comment on the fact that, because of the rain, the water was puddling in the parking lot. You’re kidding! It’s raining and it’s causing puddles! Hold the presses!

And recently I watched a local reporter driving in a car to report on road conditions. The fact that he had to drive all the way to New Castle before he could finally find a few snowflakes was both humorous and pitiful at the same time.

Is it really too much to ask for some meaningful, thoughtful and relevant content that could possibly spark an interesting conversation around the water cooler or dinner table? Are we to be held captive to 30-second sound bites about meaningless trivia such as house fires and car crashes when there are so many important things happening?

How is Obamacare affecting local business and families? What about the transportation bill passed in Harrisburg? The local news reported that there was one and that it would fix up highways and bridges, but the fact that gasoline is going to go up by 30 cents a gallon was glossed over. That’s pretty meaningful to the average Joe trying to feed his family and make it to work every day.

I wish the local TV news executives would realize that, if they want us to watch them because they’re better than the competition, they should become better rather than just telling us that they are. They all have the same irrelevant pap in the same slick but empty package. If only one would dare to stand out, the others might follow like the lemmings that they are and we, the public, would be better for it.

As I grow older, I haven’t been able to determine if I’m rediscovering my youthful idealism or if I’m just becoming a crotchety old man in a rapidly changing world longing for a simpler time. Either way, I think we deserve a better product from the local TV news media.

It would be nice to see more emphasis on public service and a little less on ratings, and, who knows, the two just might go well hand in hand. I’d like to be able to watch the local news, but I just can’t dumb down my mind enough to sit through it.

Tom Klimcheck, a former watcher of local TV news, lives in Bethel Park.

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