Have you noticed that local television news has changed a lot during the past couple of years?
I’m not necessarily talking about the quantity of the news broadcasts but actually the quality of the newscast itself.
Having been an insider of sorts most of my life, I have seen this coming for a long time. The sad thing is that it has fallen below what my expectations were.
What is the reason for this? Money and robots.
I bet you didn’t expect the robots part. But they are present in the production of every last one of our local newscasts.
The robots I am speaking of are the television cameras. In the good old days, television cameras were operated by a man or woman who could move the camera around at the director’s whim, focusing and zooming the image as needed. Joining the camera operators were a floor director, a teleprompter (the script they read) operator, an audio technician, a Chyron (all of the text items you see on the screen) operator, a technical director, a director and often a producer.
There was a time that there were video tape operators, and a stills (the little pictures you see up in the corner) operator as well. There were generally a gaggle of engineers hanging around to tweak this knob or that dial.
In most of today’s newscasts, you will find the staff has been reduced to the on-camera talent, maybe a floor director to point at which camera the talent should be looking at, and one or two people in the control room whose primary job is to tell the computer and robots what to do.
It is a whole lot less expensive to produce a newscast these days because of the lack of talented technical people making it all happened. It shows.
The person who has to program the computer has to tell it each and every time, in advance, where the cameras are supposed to be, what microphones are supposed to be on, what text to display on the screen, what to have on the teleprompter, what video clips are to play and when. So on and so on.
One missed item, and the newscast goes down the technical drain. Sadly, you can see those mistakes in most if not all of the local broadcasts each and every day.
The on-camera folks screw up a lot more often than in the Howard Caldwell and Mike Ahern days, mostly because they don’t have the time to rehearse or even proofread a newscast anymore. They are kept busy doing additional news broadcasts for their sister stations, or their websites.
Social media, if it is done right, consumes a lot of time.
So quality bites the dust in favor of quantity and budget restrictions. It is a sad thing.
It is obvious that quality control of these broadcasts is not a high priority. One of the locals runs a series of headlines across the bottom of the screen. A great deal of the time, many those items have not changed in days. Some are not complete sentences, leaving you to wonder just what in the heck were they trying to say before someone yelled, “Doughnuts in the break room!”
Personally, I think all those extra text things at the sides, top and bottom are a needless distraction to the actual news that is being presented. But no one asked me.
Oh, and one other thing. Have you noticed the on-camera people don’t actually call what they do a newscast any more? They call it a show.
Well, I guess that is what it is, and not a very good one anymore.
Never mind me. I’m just grumpy.
Tim Renshaw formerly taught broadcasting at Greenfield-Central High School. He lives in New Palestine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.