By Harvey Oberfeld
July 15th, 2015
Talk to management in the local TV news business and they’ll blame their lack of growth or even loss of broadcast TV viewers on fracturing viewer habits, the growth of news sites on social media, rising costs and dwindling revenues for conventional news programs.
They conveniently omit how they … pushed by their advertising/sales/promotion departments … are also destroying local news programming …from the inside.
Chat up experienced reporters, producers, camera workers, technical staff … and turned off viewers … and they’ll burns your ears with tales about the way local news is increasing their own program pollution …. more and more advertorial promotions, product pushing, and all kinds of other promotional pap.
All of it, in my view … and theirs … likely to push more local tv news viewers away.
Last weekend, I happened on Global’s “Saturday Morning News” … at least that’s what Shaw Cable’s program grid called it, and they should know since they own the channel.
Right there, in the midst of their “news” show was an “open House” segment ..nothing more total shill for a real estate development in Surrey … hosted by Kaitlyn Herbst … described on Global’s own site as “traffic and weather reporter.”
Delivering lines like ” The final phase is under construction and units are still available”.
There was also, of course, LOTS of continuing coverage of the opening of the McArthurGlen fashion outlet mall in Richmond … quite legitimate in my view because a new mall attracting tens of thousands and blocking access to the airport … a real story.
BUT there were also several on-scene live hits by Julia Foy, ”a new member of the Global TV News Team” delivering the following journalistic gems:
“So if you are planning to come down to the McArthurGlen shops today, you can come and check out some of the designers … they have everything from Armani, Coach, Hugo Boss, Polo stores and many other entertainment features.”
Or a reference to the “beautiful architecture” and questions to the mall manager like: ” What are the biggest draws in this mall? What are people looking for?”
The fault, of course, in my view lies not with the peons delivering this pap on air, but with the newsroom and station brass who have allowed their promotions and sales departments to co-opt the integrity, ethics and increasingly the content of local “news” programming.
Jill Krop, a former colleague and Global’s latest News Director defends what she said is an unavoidable part of news programming today … known in the industry as ”constructed content” …. because of rising costs and revenue challenges.
And she contends the integrity of “news” is not impacted, because viewers do know the difference between real news and promotional coverage.
I guess I’m old-fashioned: I’m from a background where “reporter” meant something different than it does today.
“From when you worked here till now, the audience is more sophisticated,” Jill explained.
In other words, the viewer knows the difference between real news and promo puffery.
So does that mean we’ll soon see sponsored segments or “stories” puffing up products and places and on National News as well? Of course not: station owners and management clearly see local news as a lesser product … where content can be diluted with promotional productions.
Nevertheless Krop insisted the McArthurGlen coverage was NOT in any way sponsored or paid for by the mall: CTV won the advertising contract, she said.
I also watched the coverage there of the McCarthurGlen Mall opening Thursday.
Again …there was quite fair, legitimate coverage of the mall opening and the huge traffic problems it created for YVR traffic/passengers.
But CTV also hopped onto the promo bandwagon: Michael Kuss delivering the weather/updates THREE times from the mall … outside and inside … and delivering lines like:
“They’re open until 9 down here. they have an orchestral performance outside live: I think it kicks off at 7 o’clock…” and at the end of the show “It’s early though and I’m going to be down here for two more hours, shopping like a fiend.”
At least Koos is NOT billed as a reporter … and CTV News Director Les Staff insisted CTV’s coverage/presence at McCarthurGlen had “absolutely nothing” to do with any advertising sales contract/deal/agreements between the station and the mall.
Major retail openings ARE legitimate stories and worthy of more than just a story, Staff said … and he promised more such major coverage … when Nordstrom’s opens in Vancouver in September.
The openings may be big news events in a way, but is it also necessary to fawn all over them, to promote them, to push their interests, instead of the viewers’ ?
But then I spotted a ray of light!
Just when I was despairing even more than usual about local tv news in Vancouver … there was Randene Neill … a real reporter, anchoring the Saturday Newshour on Global, who said, after viewing more continuing promo-type coverage:
“What they need to do is actually get a review of that discount mall. Is it even worth going? Because quite often, kind of like Target, you get there and say ‘Why am I wasting my time?’ . ”
Yes, Randene! Thank you, Randene!!
But don’t hold your breath waiting for that honest kind of review … at least, not on local tv news.