Thursday, November 29, 2007

"...And Now, A Word From Your Local Station..."

If national network news is the scary mouth of the liberal wing, local news is Dr. Seuss.

Since the night lovers have graciously returned the hour of daylight stolen from morning people in the spring (now that it doesn't do any good,) my evening walk commences about 4:15, so that I'm not trudging around knee deep in darkness and fallen leaves. Last night my entire hour's walk was accompanied by the machine-gun ack ack ack of two helicopters flying in low, slow, wide circles just east of my neighborhood route.

Annoyed and curious, I flipped on the local news when I returned and, yep, there it was, broadcast in high definition and looking like Chevy Chase's Christmas lights -- the headlights and taillight's of a massive commute traffic jam on the freeway nearest my house, causing a backup for five miles in each direction and effectively closing off all exits.

High drama and truly newsworthy, right? The irritating helicopters didn't vanish for at least another hour, so I have to assume there was award-winning video being transmitted all over Northern California of...traffic.

I know local news by definition covers local issues, and traffic is certainly a serious local concern here. The State government based downtown is surely the area's largest employer, and most of those employees surely live in one of the many nearby suburbs. But really....two hours of helicopter coverage of an accident causing a traffic tie-up? "This is the shot of the freeway at 4:35" "Here's the freeway at 4:42" "Let's go to our live HD copter and see how things look at 4:57" AAARGH! It's a traffic jam - nothing's moving or likely to move. Please, tell us about the latest protest group around the Capitol or the weeping woman whose Christmas gifts for her 14 children were stolen from her car.

I blush now when I remember contemplating my move to this area a few years ago. One of the items on the plus side of my decision list was, "bigger market area - better local news." Well, it's better than the one-horse town I moved from, but not THAT much better. In fact, a few of the reporters from one-horseville have migrated up this way as they gained a little polish and experience and advanced in their careers.

All of the local news channels have adopted the format that has earned "The View" its Emmy awards. You know -- where three or four people sit around a desk and all talk at the same time, so the viewer sees only multiple lips flapping and hands waving and CAN'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING.

We even have one married couple who is honestly hilarious to watch. He's an older gentleman, very Jimmy Stewartesque in that he can't speak a sentence without umming, duhhing, stopping and starting. She's much younger (or has a good plastic surgeon) and the living, breathing embodiment of the question "why HIM?" She never looks at him or addresses him and seems to be truly embarrassed being on the same planet...while he mumbles along, remaining completely oblivious to most everything - except her. It's cute, funny and only slightly nauseating.

I honestly can't imagine how my parents survived for most of their life without local TV giving them minute-by-minute reports of weather conditions. Seriously. How did they manage without knowing the precise future minute the first raindrop would fall and the exact velocity of the wind at that time? Surely they weren't bright enough to know it gets colder in November in Reno and frost might form? Did they weatherproof their water pipes and gardens all on their own? The true Renaissance couple!

Just over our city's shoulder rises the crest of the mighty Sierra, with ski areas buried under an average of 360 inches of snow annually. We're the gateway to that playground as well as to any state east -- you almost have to come here to get there (unless you're traveling the southern routes, of course.) That makes winter weather a consideration, and wow, do our local stations provide those quarter-hourly updates with wild enthusiasm.

It's apparent policy to start out junior reporters on the weather-watch team, and every year, as predictable as Santa Claus, just after the very first snowflake falls some poor schmuck is rushed up to the wide spot in the road where the second flake will be seen. This vantage point is named Blue Canyon, no doubt for the numbers of smurflike noses, ears, fingers and toes of these sad-sacks who stand on the side of the road, screaming over the howling wind to catalog each and every subsequent snowflake for us.

Last year, one of these goofy guys (who could max out any enthusiometer device just by talking about the rice crop) reported from Blue Canyon right after a significant storm. He was so desperate for us to know how REALLY DEEP the snow was that when words simply failed him he handed off his frozen microphone and jumped into the nearest snow drift, flailing around and making snow reporters. Then, just so we'd really get the picture, he got up and did it again... and again... and again, like a four-year-old kid in a bounce-house.

I thought he was a complete nutbar, but those two minutes of snowy slapstick must have warmed someone's cockles as he's been moved up to weekend anchor. Bye, bye, Blue Canyon -- I wonder what poor newbie reporter is shopping this minute for thigh-high boots?

I'm sure I stand on this viewpoint alone, as I do on so many others...but why oh why is our local weather such a big friggin deal? It's not like we're frozen Minnesota or tornado-ridden Oklahoma, and so far I haven't seen a single monsoon, typhoon or hurricane.

Northern California winters are chilly, windy, rainy, and up in the nearby Sierra snow falls. In spring we have more rain and wind. It's hot in the summer (a few days very hot), and the leaves fall in cool autumn... very predictable. Steve Martin's "Wacky Weather Guy" could get a gig here easily.

Sure - let us know the forecast so we can plan our activities with reasonable certainty, but plotting lines where "this side of the street will be rainy, that side dry" is just beyond ridiculous, in my view.

Well, it's 36 degrees outside as I write this, we have a few clouds but no rain is expected. Relative humidify is 93%, the barometer is steady at 30.17, and the winds are calm at 0 MPH.

I know all that because online weather told me so. No film at 11 needed, thanks anyway.


annie kelleher said...

omg... i spit coffee on my keyboard reading this.

B. Grant said...

You write "'I'm sure I stand on this viewpoint alone, as I do on so many others...but why oh why is our local weather such a big friggin deal? It's not like we're frozen Minnesota or tornado-ridden Oklahoma, and so far I haven't seen a single monsoon, typhoon or hurricane."

You are not alone at all--what is worse than the concentration on weather is how wrong they are, at least in the two areas I have direct knowledge of--Northern New Jersey and Southern Maine, Now and then I call the station and ask when was the last time anyone had looked out a window--hey Moron, it is pouring down rain, not partly cloudy. The weather forcasts in Maine are simply awful--they stations are 8 miles from the Island my place is on and they make perdictions as if they were on another planet.

I have made my living by placing stories in various media outlets since 1974. Doing this has given me a great deal of specific insight as to what a news outlet uses and what it does and how much importance it places on various things. TV loves crap, worships it in fact and has on their staffs people who know a lot about crap, but nothing about anything of importance to anyone in the real world. it is so bad that I stopped watching TV news 20 years ago, unless I know that a client is coming on or there will be a story about a client. I get all my "news" from newspapers, magazines and journals and ya know what? I am still the best informed person I know.

Just For Fun (with a guaranteed smile)