Last Sunday, a vintage jet crashed during the Hillsboro Airshow and destroyed a few houses on the ground. The pilot was killed but no one was in any of the houses affected.
There's a link here to a local news story about it. It's the local news issue I'm writing about.
I'll go ahead and begrudge local broadcast news a bit, because it looks to me like much of the time they frankly are reaching hard for relevance, if not resorting to outright stupidity. (Live! Late-breaking! Investigative!) There are four main network affiliates in Portland, and they were each on the air for a couple of hours solid, saying absolutely nothing more than, "A plane crashed, the pilot was killed, three homes are on fire, but no one was in any of them." That's all the news there was.
That of course does not stop the search for self-relevance. For two hours, there was no letup in either repetition of the above four or, worse, an endless stream of people who saw the plane struggle before it disappeared behind a grove of trees between the airport and the crash site -- each of whom told precisely the same story which added nothing of value.
I'm perfectly aware, of course, of the emotions that drive this kind of thing. But have you noticed how much we can make out of something we know nothing about? Next time you see a breaking story -- and this could be on local or network, anywhere -- pay attention to whether or not the anchor and reporters say "we don't know." It's probably a lot.
It really hit me between the eyes first right after the Supreme Court ruling in the 2000 election, when ABC went directly on the air to their legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who, when asked by Peter Jennings for the result of the ruling, said, "Hold on, Peter...if you'll just give me a moment to read the ruling..." Jennings awkwardly obliged, trying to fill the time between leaping onto the air and actually having a fact to report.
It's happening more and more frequently, sometimes disastrously.
Jeff Jarvis would have a lot more to add to this thought, but the fact of the matter is that today we have so many ways to get our information, local broadcast is feeling the head of competition and doesn't know how to respond. So instead of self-critique or thoughtful exploration, you get more gimmick, overreach and we-caught-him-red-handed "journalism."
And I'm not putting all the blame on the talking heads, either. We've lost our appetite for actual news in favor of entertaining sensation.