Over the last couple of weeks I have become increasingly frustrated with how modern news outlets operate. The fact that it's about viewer numbers and not actually reporting the news in most cases is a fact, but it has become pathetic.
For the record, I am down to watching The Rachael Maddow Show on MSNBC, and I don't even do that every night. I get my news from KCBS radio (740AM) and online from diverse sources like Reuters, Al Jazera, the BBC, and whatever domestic sources I can find for a story. I find network news unwatchable for the utterly shallow coverage. Even the weekend talking head shows have become less "Face The Nation" and more "give your prepared speech." Guest are selected based on the numbers they'll bring in.
What really pissed me off was the coverage of the death of Freddie Grey while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department and the resultant civil unrest. This was an important story, to be sure. It highlighted the institutional racism this country still faces, the over-militarization and excessive force employed by the police, and the problems of endemic poverty in creating a permanent underclass. This was a story that deserved close examination.
What we got was eight hours a day of talking heads moving from network to network, rash speculation, reporting of rumors as fact, and on-site reporters outnumbering protesters in some cases. There were days when there was nothing meaningful to report, yet the news outlets stayed on the story while ignoring other important stories. For example, did you know that last week the Supreme Court issued a ruling that shocked court watchers and may have paved the way for a challenge to Citizens United?
I know because I follow a couple of legal blogs. But it got almost zero airtime because we had to interview a member of the Crips live on air.
I wish I was kidding.
The problem is that directors are terrified that if they cover something else the junkies who want that story only will change channels. Which is a terrible way to get real news out.
My other moment of frustration came Saturday. Saturday, something amazing happened in the world of sports. Two baseball games ended when a baserunner was hit by a batted ball. That's called Runner Interference in the rules, and the runner is out. (The batter gets credit for a single.) Never before in the history of Major League Baseball had two games ended on this call on the same day. Think about it; the Major Leagues ave been around (officially) for 112 years. Each season each team plays well over 100 games. And never before did this improbably thing happen.
So I tuned into ESPN to see some highlights and discussion. However, every other sporting event in the world was being ignored for an over-hyped welterweight boxing match that was universally described as terrible. ESPN spent three hours covering a fight where very little happened, cutting to interviews with everyone involved, analyzing each punch. . . it wasn't a good fight!
But it was a much-hyped fight. This was supposed to be the fight of the century. So ESPN ignored reality and ignored everything else.
There's a reason I don't watch much TV beyond a few favorites.