Tonight… "Slowly the news spreading…" on TV

Tonight on Channel 4 Action News at 11, Seton Hill University students reflecting on what they learned
by watching a half hour of local Channel 4 Action TV News.  We go now to Channel 4 Action News at 11 reporter Dennis Jerz, with this live Channel 4 Action News at 11 report.

I had my news writing students watch the local “Channel 4 Action News” last night.

My sympathies to nearby Carnegie-Mellon U, which is dealing with the aftermath of yesterday’s student suicide.

The news report positioned the CMU story as the central piece, first noting that Channel 4 doesn’t usually cover suicides, but then proceeding to just that. The reporter, live on the scene hours after the suicide was reported, had to report that the
university had no comment, and filled up her time by summarizing general info that anyone
could have found on the school website.

The closest thing to an eyewitness report was a guy who said he saw some stairwells roped off, though later that same fellow stopped himself just before he admitted that he could understand a student wanting to commit suicide at a more stressful time of year.  

I was most stunned when the reporter transitioned back to her live presence on campus by saying, “Slowly the news spreading.”   (I just checked the audio recording I made… there was no “is” in her statement.)

News of a campus suicide is spreading slowly, she says, while reporting live from that campus… so presumably she’s speaking about the spread of news on that campus.

Spreading slowly? That’s hard to believe. Unless, of course, the CMU community is an internet-free, anti-internet, no-word-of-mouth zone.

Last term, when an off-campus shooting led to the death of a Seton Hill student, news spread very quickly indeed.

Today, I was careful to explain that TV news was a powerful force that had a tremendous impact on life in the 20th C, noting that in the 50s people were as excited about TV as we are today about the internet.  I have on several occasions admitted to students that, because I am a textual learner, I don’t find the TV news very valuable. More often than not, if I hear something of interest on the TV, I will walk away to the computer and look it up for myself online, where I can control how much time I spend on this story.

Cynical as I am about TV, I was nevertheless surprised when I came across the text of this advertisement for a WTAE-TV reporter. The language emphasizes the emotional, ratings-driven nature of television.

Do you have a track record of delivering high-impact, highly promotable pieces? Do you have the skills to plug in to the biggest issues in our viewers’ lives and produce and tell that story so that it becomes appointment television? WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh’s Hearst Television station, is searching for an experienced and creative reporter for our Call 4 Action franchise. You should have a vision for ambitious special projects stories AND the flexibility and ability to drive “day of” consumer stories and lead story sidebars. If you enterprise stories that have production sizzle and get results, we want to see the proof on tape. You must be able to work weekends, holidays and various shifts as needed, plus hold a valid driver’s license.  Motor Vehicle Record check required.

Nothing about fairness, depth, knowledge of the community, or writing ability. Of course, it’s a given that good reporters have those skills, so the ad is focusing on what’s harder to find in the applicant pool — the ability to “enterprise stories that have production sizzle.”  And clearly, the ad is telling people who don’t already understand what those buzzwords mean, and who don’t buy into the existential value of such an activity, not to bother applying.

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