Local News Fails at Journalism
Matt Chatham | Contributing Writer
Serving much of Oregon with weather, sports, and crime reports, Know Oregon’s Independent Newspaper (KOIN) is a CBS-affiliated station owned by LA-based New Vision TV that broadcasts regular evening news programs out of Portland. Complete with plain-folks interviews, aerial views of featured sites, and meaningless “expert” sound bites, its half-hour news show KOIN 6 at 6 is fully representative of the trite garbage that is regularly spewed out of studios across the nation.
Among other topics, the evening’s programming for February 6 touched on the weather, two homicides, and the story of a “mystery urn” of unidentified cremated remains. None of the features lasted more than three minutes, and the longest was the weather; of the seven reports measured, in fact, the average length was a mere minute. A full third of the half-hour was filled by advertisements, themselves dominated by food, health care, and vehicles. The prim-perfect male-female anchor team tried to exchange lighthearted banter with the all-white crew and the meteorologist repeatedly spoke in the first person in order to make himself out to be the expert while delivering his extremely technical weather descriptions and predictions. Analysis was nonexistent and fear-mongering constant: people should beware neighborhood con-men or an apocalyptic eruption of Mount Hood, not to mention ubiquitous crime (except that violent crime rates have been decreasing for decades). The only reports with a shred of significance were those on a proposal for gay marriage and the Occupy movement.
The shallowness of this program makes one question its real purpose: What is the point of even airing a show that doesn’t touch on anything of greater importance than the usual weather? I mean, the weather was the cornerstone of the news, people. When one includes ads, teasers, and banter (i.e., not news-related) they undoubtedly equal at least half of the total running time. Looking at the content, the only conclusion that can be made is that it was created to fill the usual slot with fear and silliness in order to serve us ten minutes of commercials and boost ratings for the CBS Evening News. And this is no special case; across the United States local news sources open with the same music, the same narrative style, the same anchors, the same subjects. If you’ve heard of one murder you’ve heard of them all, and you’ll be kept updated on every one.
What can we do in order to expose ourselves to worthy content and promote a public discourse with some semblance of depth? For one thing, don’t watch the local news. Actually, don’t watch the news at all; reading the news in a newspaper or, preferably, online gives one significantly more opportunity to digest and interact with it (in my opinion). Don’t accept sub-par “news” that ignores relevant governmental, economic, or social trends in favor of the “mystery urn.” You might even try getting into news yourself by sending articles or letters to your local newspaper or posting on a blog. As a democratic and principled nation we should demand that the media serve us, not themselves, as forums for public discourse and channels for important social issues.