Monday, April 27, 2009

Fun (or not) With The Media

My weekend of disappointment in the local news media began Friday evening watching the six o’clock news, when I actually laughed out loud at what one of the local TV stations had done to a reporter who’s been a friend for years. In its zeal to warn us about the possibility of rain 250 miles from Madison, they’d unwittingly placed one of those “weather icons”…in this case, a cloud with a lightning bolt coming out of it….right over his FACE as he was attempting to give us an update on this coming weekend’s Mifflin Street Beer Blast.

Never mind that the rain we were being warned about was roughly over Rochester Minnesota, by gum the station was going to make us aware that it was going to be raining somewhere, and our lives wouldn’t be safe unless we saw that little cloud and lightning bolt thingy on the screen.
Saturday progressed with the litany of chores attendant to weekend living in our household, and we settled in to finally watch our DVD of “Doubt” around 8 o’clock, and retired thereafter. We had not exposed ourselves to a local weathercast, so we weren’t fully apprised of the hellacious weather about to break loose.

The full fury of the spring storm hit around midnight, with lots of wind, record rainfall, thunder and lighting galore. Our power went out around midnight and didn’t come back on until a little after 2 AM. When we finally got up Sunday morning, there was no coffee made. The automatic timer on the pot was confused by the long power outage.

There was no TV to be had, and no internet. Our cable company is also our internet service provider, and they were down. So we reverted to the trusty old radio in the kitchen, tuning in the only local station (of the 30 or so that call Madison home) that gives news on Sunday morning. Their top-of-the-hour newscast mentioned nothing about the storm or the cable outage, but we were treated to a story datelined Sheboygan, then one about some child in trouble in Green Bay, and then something about Madison, but I confess I don’t even remember what it was. Nothing that I cared to know about. Three short news "blasts", each about 15 seconds long.

Cable and internet service returned at 11:35, and by noon we were in the car running errands, and flipped on the radio station again to see if we could find out any particulars about the power and cable outage. Nope. This time, the story about Sheboygan, the story about Green Bay, and then about six sports items. TWO short news blasts, unchanged from two hours ago.

The power and cable outage - which affected thousands of people - was caused by some doofus clipping a power pole and leaving the scene. It took me about four clicks on the internet to find that out, this morning.

I could preach here about how the decimation of local print and electronic media newsrooms does take a toll on the product they put out, which consists largely of “wire copy” and maybe an item or two rewritten from a “news release”. But that’s another rant for another time. Weekends have always been the vast wasteland of local news, and since the 70’s broadcast news consultants have been preaching (to the deaf) that we should have our BEST people on, since there are so many more available viewers and listeners.

But top management has never understood what it takes to actually GATHER local news…like whether there was any storm damage, and why the power was out for such an unusually long time, and why the cable service was out for nearly 12 hours. The sort of stuff regular folks around Madison might want to know. Just stick a part-timer in there to “read wire copy”.

And the big bosses wonder why their circulation or audience is they consistently trim the news payroll to "save money".


  1. I'm engaged here with my little blue Swine Flu mask on, worried about the Pandemic sweeping the entire world and your upset about a power outage in your remote village? We have to be protected from the world events. What if the bird flu combines with the pig flu, flying pigs.. Make your issue 'Downed Power Lines' international. I'm sure that more power lines went down across the world than people died from Swine Flu. It's a Pandemic!!
    Power lines will continue going down long after the Mexican elections are over and Swine Flu disappears. Much as the Bird Flu disappeared after the Chinese peasant uprising was put down.
    News is owned by a club we ain't a member of. Right now, Mexico is facing a tough election and isolating Mexico is a primary concern of corporate news.

  2. Out New Yawk way, one of the copies of Air Force One did a Statue of Liberty fly-by this morning (said to be a photo shoot of some sort) and the whole region was aflutter. Buildings were evacuated or went into lockdown; schools were alerted, cops were flashing their lights, the phone system began to overheat ... and what's left of the news media happily honed their hyperbole skills. It was marvelous.