Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Am I Now Too Old For Morning TV News Shows?

My bride tells me part of my problem is that I just don’t like change.  We discussed that point a bit, and I tried to put a finer point on it by saying I don’t like NEEDLESS change.  I’ll admit my Windows 7 runs a lot quicker and slicker than Windows 98, and while I may grouse a bit about such changes, they seem to make things better.  Needless change, to me, is illustrated nicely by the changes CNN has made to its early morning news program.

As I groused about it to my bride again this morning, she pointed out that now both of us are outside the ironclad 25-54 age demographic, so what we think doesn’t even matter to network TV programmers.  She also pointed out that neither of us is really a “broadcaster” any more (even though my day-job reporting is heard on radio stations around the state and Midwest), so we don’t even know what “THE CONSULTANTS” are thinking these days.

My morning routine involves letting the dogs out, herding them back in, getting a cup of coffee, and planting my butt in front of the TV to find out what heinous things have happened overnight.  For the past three years, I’ve watched CNN from 6 to 6:30 to get a fix on what’s going on.  But a few weeks ago, they took what (to me) was a perfectly good morning national news show and wrecked it.

They brought in the children.

Instead of having adults like Carol Costello, Christine Romans, and Ali Velshi give an excellent summary of the news, now, they have Soledad O’Brein sitting around a table with a number of other children and they “talk about the news” rather than report it.  They start with what they consider the “lead” story (spelled “lede” in the print news biz, I’m told) and just sit around and talk about it.  This morning it was the mostly-sunken cruise ship.  Some boy who couldn’t have been more than 25 years old was trying to make a fine point about maritime law.  A cynical 62-year-old bastard like me would rather hear about maritime law from some grizzled old sea salt who at least looked like he might have set foot on a ship or two.

This new young group of CNN morning newsies sat around and talked about this ONE story from 6 AM until 6:15 AM, when, in frustration, I changed the channel.  In 15 minutes, these children talked about ONE story.

Years ago, when I was consulting radio news operations across the fruited plain, my mantra was “story count equals credibility”.  In other words, years and years of duplicated research showed that people perceived the station that ran the MOST news stories in any given unit of time (5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes – which in broadcast parlance is referred to as a “quarter-hour”) was perceived as being the most credible news organization.  It was OK to go in depth on a story, but only AFTER you’d given the listener/viewer a big blast of assorted other news items.

Granted, radio and television are far different critters, particularly in the morning, where radio listening is done half at home and half in the car on the way to work.  TV is still essentially a 100% “in-home” critter in the morning.  I have a good friend who is considered the top news/talk radio consultant in the nation, and he still tells me that one of the biggest challenges is helping the on-air talent to understand clearly the implications of the fact that the average listener is only there for about 18 minutes in the morning.  They’re busy, they’re in and out, and they want a concise summary of news and weather frequently.

Maybe it’s the old radio news programming consultant part of me that makes this change in CNN’s morning programming so distasteful to me.  I expect to be told about at least a dozen stories if I dedicate 15 minutes to watching.  There’s a hell of a lot more going on in the world on any given day, like today, than a boat wreck that happened days ago.  And while I confess complete ignorance about what TV News consultants are thinking about, saying, and preaching these days, I do NOT want to see a bunch of kids talking about the same story for 15 minutes.  If I want to hear a 15-minute rant about a single topic, there are plenty of other TV (and, God knows, radio) stations which can provide that.

Maybe I am just too old, my opinion doesn’t count, and the advertising department doesn’t want to sell ads about products I might find useful.  And, this morning, I was secretly hoping that maybe CNN might make mention of the MILLION signatures on the Walker recall petition in Wisconsin.

But, to the news children who run things today, 15 minutes of kids sitting around talking about a boat that half-sank several days ago is apparently more important than giving viewers a representative sample of current events from around the nation and the world.


  1. National Public Radio news wakes me at 4 a.m. daily. It is excellent. By 6 a.m. they are on a repeat cycle, so I get up, drain Bizzy the dog, make coffee, get the newspaper, put up with WIBA newsreading. The tv is not turned on at all. There is no morning tv news. I would endorse the NPR cyle, however. WPR gets some time in there, too.

  2. I miss your morning news shows. I used to drive to work listening to you do the news and on my way to Baraboo I would be updated on everything that had happened since the day before, which was great.

    I'm with you: I want news QUICKLY, and A LOT. I love reading HuffPo and some other news aggregators: I can scroll through headlines, get an idea what's happened, and then click through for more detail.

    This morning, I got dressed watching GMA. In five minutes, I heard them (2) do a sort of a capella version of "Single Ladies", then (v) tease George Stephanopoulos about how his singing was, followed by commercials.

    I then turned over to CBS, home of "Hard News" these days and got a roundtable, people sitting there talking format in which some mayor of something talked about how Obama had done better than people give him credit for.

    In 8 minutes of putting on a suit to head to work, I got ZERO news, but I do know that George Stephanopoulous could put a ring on it.

    Also: "lede" is stupid. I hate seeing that and I think it destroys credibility.

  3. From Mediabistro: "Why is "lede" spelled that way?
    Same reason why ''hed'' and ''dek'' are spelled that way -- so there is no chance of them being taken for ''real words'' and accidentally making it onto the printed page. They are spelled wrong to serve as red flags that will be caught by copy editors, spell-check programs, etc."
    This is what I was taught back in the hot type days, which ages me but what the hell.

  4. And, if you are REALLY interested in this discussion, which I have had about a thousand times, consult this:

  5. Preach. I gave up on the national cable channels during the anthrax freakout in 2001 when I realized that, contrary to the way things are supposed to work, the longer you watched CNN, the less you knew about what was happening, thanks to the combination of hype and "facts" presented without sufficient context to make them understandable. As this trend has continued and spread everywhere over the last 10 years, it's no wonder we've gotten so dumb as a society.

  6. Cable is the lowest common denominator, Tim. Have you tuned in to the new CBS morning show with Charlie Rose? It's not exactly McNeil/Lehrer, but it is more respectful and cerebral than Today, for instance. But George is right... for actual news and commentary, NPR's Morning Edition is running away from the field.

  7. Crochety old fart, aren't you?

    Join the club, fella.