CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Not to be dispiriting, but there is very little reason to watch the local news. If you're satisfied to simply see the day's digest of house fires, fender benders and high school reunions, fine. Otherwise, the regional boob-tube newscasts are nothing more than a "vast wasteland" in the words of one-time FCC Chairman Newton Minow. Using my words, I would say the so-called newscasts are a colossal waste of time. Basically, the items they flog as news are merely undemanding fillers located between used-car commercials and mattress ads. Not to mention the announcements for male enhancement.
Okay, you say, what about the weather? Well, what about the weather. First of all, the weather, most of the time, is not news. Most of the time, it's a drip. Yet the weather is very big on the local stations. They even lead their newscasts with the forecast, like, "Very sunny today, but that could change." Holy headline! One local station even tries to shock its audience out of the "news" -- induced somnolence with this grabber: "First Warning Weather." Aside from my admonition to always avoid alliteration, they shouldn't be warning weather unless there is weather to be warned. Listen, people, you'd be better served just glancing out your window for rain than staring at the pedestrian climatological ho-hums they pass off as news.
You see, the definition of news is that which is unusual, out-of-the-ordinary, surprising, scoop. And the definition of a news reporter is someone skilled at ferreting out that which is unusual and, then, communicating it. But what you have on the local stations is a failure to communicate. Not only that, but the so-called communicators, or newscasters, are nothing more than those who mumble the mundane, mannequins of mendacity. Oops, there I go alliterating again.
Instead of focusing on original reporting, the local stations are focused on cosmetics. Not a country for old men and women, the local television "news" landscape is populated by bubble-heads and glib, young, sometimes pretty know-nothings. The truth is, they wouldn't know a news story if it slapped them in the face. When was the last time you saw an investigative piece about, let's see, the Massey Mine disaster? Or, how about, God forbid, an exclusive story that penetrated the precincts where politicians hide their secrets from the public?
There are reasons you don't get the news on local TV. Station owners and managers forbid their news departments from stepping on toes and ruffling feathers, out of fear that such stories might insult local advertisers or offend politicians on whose toes reporters might stomp. And investigative or original reporting is costly, meaning real reporters must be hired to do real reporting, a job that requires lots of time and money that the stations have no time for. Instead, I remember one Huntington TV station leading its newscast last December with the astonishing news that Christmas tree sales were on the rise. Hold the presses!
Someone once said that owning a local TV station is like having a license to steal. But the real license to broadcast calls for the people to be informed. People, isn't it time to revoke the license?
Rabel is an author and Emmy Award-winning former television news correspondent who lives in Lincoln County.