Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 13: Network News

Network news is a necessity and a bane. Viewers need to be exposed to local, national, and world news as well as basic human interest stories. Television is the perfect medium for that since it still reaches so many people and it’s easy to digest.

Let’s just say that “Network news” consists of local and national outlets for the purposes of this post. That said there are a number of problems with these programs.

Network News Is Mostly Fluff

A problem with network news is how it tries to condense information into half-hour installments. Bill Maher talked about this in 2015 when discussing the story about how Brian Williams lost his credibility.

Maher was mostly right and much of what he said has been said before. What’s more is that it’s impossible to fit so much news — on local, national, and worldly levels — into a relatively small amount of time. More time is taken up by commercials and segments for the weather, traffic, health, sports, and entertainment.

Some News Network Segments Need to Go

Now, take that last part I mentioned: entertainment. This is not to disrespect those who are responsible for reporting on entertainment, but those network news segments are unneeded. I like entertainment news but occasionally and in larger installments than what is offered on network news programs. The fact is no one needs to see the five minutes set aside for talk of the Oscars or winners of other Hollywood awards.

Another segment that needs to be taken away from network news or at least be limited in some fashion is health. Really, health segments aren’t needed very often. I say this because the health segments tend to contain condensed, misleading, and contradictory information. “Are these foods good for you? No, they aren’t. Yes, they are.” Make up your minds, people!

On top of that we will occasionally see reports on obesity. This is a problem, but do we need to see clips upon clips of overweight people from the neck down? I hate those shots!

I would say sports segments but I can see why that should stay for the time being. It’s understood that most people will have plenty of options for sports news nowadays, whether it be ESPN and the like, the Internet, or smart phone apps. However, a sports segment is nice for people who don’t use the above and don’t want to wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to see local scores.

Beyond that, networks need to use the time they have for focusing on issues of substance. This can be further supplemented for viewers who do use the Internet to get their news stories.

News Programs Love to Copy Each Other

Really, they do. Just look at this compilation via Conan.

That’s just plain creepy…

Networks Love to Focus on the Bad News

This is not to say that bad news shouldn’t be reported on. Killings and robberies happen every day. Those should be reported on. Local, national, and international terrorism should be reported on, too.

That said there seems to be an obsession with bad news and that is paired with a lack of context. For example, we should know how many shootings have happened in certain areas in a given time period (daily, weekly, per year) in order to give viewers an idea of how bad a problem is and if measures taken to address these problems are working. Also, we do need good news in order to counteract the bad. Additionally, news outlets should figure out a way to smoothly transition from mood to mood.

News Breaks Are Just Disruptive

Just when you get to the good part of a story, some people just love to interrupt the show you’re watching.

What ticks me off is the disruption caused by news breaks. When these news breaks come up, I will naturally immediate sense of alarm and assume the worse. “Did somebody die?”

Most of the time the answer is no as many news breaks don’t have pressing information.  The designated news anchor will usually come on and then say:

Ladies and gentlemen, the President has finally chosen a new color swatch for his pool room. The First Lady was pressuring him to make a decision and the President ran the risk of missing his meeting with that prime minister.

Really? This could have waited for dinnertime.

And even if the news break held important news, it is pretty jarring to change moods so abruptly. I will go from enjoying what I’m watching, to possibly being brought down by bad real-world news, to being uninterested in the regular programming if the news was bad.

Secondly, If the news wasn’t really bad, I will of course be angry that I missed an important plot development.

What’s worse is that there is no guarantee the daytime programming that was interrupted will be shown at a later time. People on the West Coast are screwed more often than not. It’s rare for those on the East Coast to miss an episode or for those in the West to see something the rest of the country didn’t get to see.

To be fair, there are important news breaks. A natural disaster needs to be reported on. The health of the president needs to be immediately addressed, and so do his legal issues, if they are dire.

Still, there are more announcements that can wait. Do we need to see the president make an announcement about every executive decision he makes? Do we need to know that the president has landed for a diplomatic meeting if there is no immediate danger to him? Do we need an anchor to tell us about a celebrity who died right after he/she took one last breath? In California in particular, do we need to see hours upon hours of an unnecessary high-speed car chase? The news outlets even love to show footage from wildfires. This is not to say I don’t care about those, but what can be done to immediately fix the situation? All of these announcements could be made via a crawl at the bottom of the screen or during a news update that occurs within the commercial break.

A sidenote: News updates really tick me off, too. One thing they have in common with news breaks is the sharp change in mood. I can be watching a comedy or a drama that just had a lighthearted moment. All of a sudden, that mood is changed when a news anchor suddenly appears on my TV screen in order to tell me that someone has just been shot or arrested. I am now effectively on edge.

Networks Love to Tease Viewers, Too

If you’ve ever watched network news reports, they will occasionally tease you with stories. Above, I just said entertainment segments should be removed from general news telecasts, but these are normally what are used to tease viewers. Anything that will pique a viewer’s interest will do.

Mayor X was caught by police officers on top of parade float while drunk. Was he wearing any clothes? Film at 11.

This information could be found online but let’s just say I ran out of data or I turned off my computer and CBA to turn it back on for the night, so I tune in. Is this item at the top of the news? Of course not. I stick around, only to be teased some more.

How much jail time is Mayor X facing? Find out after the break.

You see, “after the break” can mean anything, really, but it normally never means after this break. I will have to wait for the second half-hour in an hour-long telecast. Sometimes, I’m lucky if I see what I want to see quickly within those 30 minutes, but I might have to wait for the middle.

Thinkin’ about that story you wanna see? It’s coming up next!

The worst case scenario: I wait ‘til there are only five minutes left in the newscast. By then, the story I was waiting to see will only be addressed in a 29-second blurb.

You got me…you bastards!

Next in the series, I will be addressing a plague on all our houses…Er, I mean cable news networks.


2 thoughts on “Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 13: Network News

  1. I would like to add that commercial news programs in the U.S. interspersed with commercials feed on our increasing inability to sustain our focus on a given topic for an extended period of time. We become conditioned to pay attention to one spurt of information quickly and then move on to another one in a similar fashion. Compare this trend to the BBC and Public Television , where there a emphasis on a sustained coverage of fewer topics and minimal commercial time.

    Did you ever notice that TV commercials , esp. car dealer spots have a louder volume than the regular program they accompany? Another attention destroyer?


    1. I haven’t really look closely at BBC programming, but you’re right on all counts. American TV executives do tell viewers what they want then market it and it appears the execs have a low opinion of viewers overall. They say we have low attention spans, but the programming itself does have an effect.

      Yes, I have noticed the volume on commercials with respect (or lack thereof) to the content. That’s a problem even on streaming sites. It’s ridiculous!


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