Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Media Rant: Nannyism

When did it become the role of a news anchor (or reporter) to tell people how to behave? That memo must have come out after I left the news anchoring business a couple years ago.

Did you notice the number of radio and TV news folks who preached to us during the height of the blizzard this past Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to “stay home, stay off the roads?” It used to be the role of the news person to report such warnings, if they were issued by duly appointed public safety officials or the National Weather Service, but now it seems these personal urgings from the news folks supersede official pronouncements.

Or is it just that way in Madison, a/k/a Nannytown USA?

My friend JB, a writer/editor/part-time radio guy, blogged “Snow snow snow oh my god snow everybody go out buy food stay home it’s the end snowstorm blizzard frozen death snow aggggggggh.” As he pointed out, it used to be that news folks reported what was going on, but left the actual decisions up to the audience.

Maybe it’s just because I’m overly aware of the way English is used by broadcasters, but to me, there’s a world of difference between “The State Patrol is not recommending travel anywhere in the southern half of Wisconsin tonight” and “if you don’t have to travel tonight, please stay home, stay off the roads.”

About the snarkiest I’d ever get during my on-air days was to say something like “The Dane County Sheriff’s Department is advising against travelling on the roads today, because most are still ice-or-snow-covered and slippery; just remember, you pay the first 500 dollars, or whatever your car insurance deductible is.”

I’d rather be snarked at, than nannied to.


  1. In the MKE market, it was 50/50 between grannynannies and straight news reporting.

    But: the grannynannies were louder and much more frequent.

    WTMJ-TV was, by far, the worst; they adopted 'advocacy' journalism about 3 years ago, which may have led Gousha to exit the station.

    THAT was good for WISN-TV. Gousha's a lefty, but DAMN good at asking the hard questions to all parties.

  2. I left the print reporting business about five years ago, when "service journalism" was becoming all the rage. It was nothing new, of course, but publications and TV outlets were becoming more concerted about the effort. Forever, TV news operations have made 3-minute segments every June out of how not to get sunburned, as if that were news. It's the whole "news you can use" idea.

    I believe that the "nannyism" you talk about grows out of that. Tips and tricks from a chef or a financial advisor very easily morphs into behavioral advice from news anchors. It's unfortunate.