June 11, 2007

You Stay Classy, Tyler, Texas!

FOR THE COMMITTED CRITIC, examples of wretchedness in local television news broadcasts are legion. There's the relentless hook-and-hold format that hypes stories that inevitably fail to live up to their billing, the blatant promotion of shows affiliated with the station's network, and the awful cutesy soft-news stories that wrap up with cute banter between the news presenters. Yet one television station in Tyler, Texas, is really pushing the envelope. According to The Hollywood Reporter, CBS affiliated KTYX-TV will have a swimsuit model anchor their daily 5 p.m. news broadcast, and the model will star in a reality television show focused on her experiences working for the station. This reality show, as one might well expect, will be broadcast on the Fox network.

There's plenty of outrage to express here. But before that, let's examine the Web site of the swimsuit model in question, Ms Lauren Jones. Go ahead and click on the link -- there are racy pictures! Hooray racy pictures! OK, now that my blatant attempt to drive up my Web traffic is over, let's get back to the whole outrage part.

It would be one thing if Ms Jones was brought in solely as a presenter. After all, a presenter simply reads the news, and when one gets down to brass tacks there is really no difference as to who does the reading. Others generally write the copy and report the stories and so on, so it really doesn't matter who does the presenting as long as they have a bit of gravitas. But to bring Ms Jones in as a reporter is another matter entirely.

After all, the simple fact that Ms Jones is playing as a reporter will likely prompt at least some sources out there to question whether they should take part in interviews with her, or others at the station. After all, people generally take the news seriously, and sources might well think twice about doing interviews if they feel like they're bait for some cheap reality television program. Broadcast reporters have it tough enough already without having their work turned into blatant infotainment -- and Fox has claimed KTYX-TV's newsroom believes taking part in the show was a giant mistake.

It will be interesting to see how Ms Jones is received at KTYX-TV and among her journalist peers in Tyler. Generally speaking, reporters don't like it when outsiders intrude on their territory for a lark. I should make clear I'm not talking about bloggers, whom any journalist will (or should) freely admit are useful, but rather celebrity-types. Look at what happened to Drew Barrymore when she interviewed Wesley Clark a while back on Clark's campaign bus. All the pool reporters on the bus, who were actually trying to do real work, were infuriated that an actress was soaking up their interview time, goddammit.

Plus, there's also the concern that broadcast news is already in enough trouble and this show won't help matters among a skeptical public. As the Hollywood Reporter reported:

Barbara Cochran, executive director of the Radio-TV News Directors Assn., said that among her concerns is viewers will get a distorted picture of what goes on in a newsroom.

"At a time when journalists are getting a lot of criticism, it's going to present a picture that doesn't show the hard work and deep thought that goes on in every newsroom," Cochran said.

Deep thought? In local broadcast? Oh, I shouldn't kid, I know -- but it's hard to imagine a lot of deep thought goes into all those human-interest stories about three-legged dogs named Lucky and minor health scares and the Continuing Exploits of the Consumer Affairs Team. It will, though, be interesting to see how this all works out -- even if it makes one pine for the good old days of broadcast news:

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 11, 2007 02:37 PM | TrackBack
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