OPINION: Any place left for TV news?

I’ll admit that when I’m in our Southern California office, I sometimes watch TV news. I mean the local news sometime between 4 and 6pm. I don’t watch long unless there’s a car chase, which happens in California a lot more than you think. They’re mesmerizing, especially when you know they’re coming close to ending.

But what else can you get from the local news? I happened to be out west when things went very badly in San Bernardino, CA and I was glued to the TV. Unfortunately I ended up being disappointed by local news — and this is Los Angeles news, some of the best-funded in the nation — for getting essential details wrong and baiting viewers with fiery rhetoric. I would view this as a real failure of local news organizations and honestly the bigger problem is that local channels fell all over themselves praising their efforts. They’re really out of touch, in my opinion.

Over and over again, those of us around the broadcast industry are told that local news and local sports will save local TV. First of all, let’s talk about local sports and how that ship has sailed. Most major sports aren’t carried by local stations, they’re carried by national or regional networks. In several cities, you can’t even see the home team without a cable or satellite subscription. So that there is a very false argument.

That leaves local news, which has devolved into a pit of entertainment reporting and submissions from people waving cell phone cameras, in the mistaken belief that simply seeing something happen somehow equates to understanding it. I think local TV news is following local newspapers into a morass of poor journalistic choices, abandoning integrity because it’s simply too expensive in this age of low ratings and commercial skipping. When devastating local news happens, what you’re left with are a bunch of reporters who are so accustomed to telling us what rehab your favorite celebrity just left that they don’t know how to truly interpret a horrible event.

Don’t get me wrong. We do need some sort of local news reporting. We need strong investigative journalists who ask good questions and effect real change. We need that rather desperately, in fact. But I’m saying that maybe TV news is too far gone to provide that. Certainly in most communities newspapers are too far gone. Let’s try to bring that integrity back to our cities, and our news reporting, wherever and whenever we can.