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Can we all agree that the only difference between local TV news now and local TV news then is that it used to be maybe 90 percent crap and now it’s 95 percent crap?

When was the last time you heard anything on a local newscast that you didn’t already know?

Once upon a time, when the local news came on at 5 or 6, bartenders would grab their remote controls and turn the channel to Chet and Nat or Liz or Tom or whoever. Sometimes patrons would even ask for the sound to be turned up.

At newspapers, interns used to be assigned to log the stories on the local newscasts. Imagine what that would involve most nights now:

“One-car crash in Newton… video of cuddly dog inside car in Ohio honking horn and barking… dumpster fire in Quincy… inbound traffic on Mass Pike backed up… video of scary skunk on birdfeeder in Montana…. Weather: 60 percent chance of showers, 40 percent chance of world ending.”

Since the passing of Ch. 5 weatherman Dick Albert, people have been waxing nostalgic about the “golden age” of local TV news in Boston. Yes, everybody knew the anchors, but that wasn’t because the programming was so compelling.

Even then the “breaking news” was mostly recycled, warmed over — if you read the papers in the morning, you knew what was going to be on the news that night.

Remember how the late Jack Cole was fired from Ch. 7 for saying, after a particularly inane story, “We’ll be back with more of this alleged news in a moment.”

Pre-cable, pre-internet, local TV basically had a monopoly on eyeballs. Once competition arrived, their audiences evaporated and they fell into their current decrepit state. An ever-dwindling number of older people watch local news out of habit. As for the younger demos – forget about it.

Heather Unruh, the former Ch. 5 anchor, put her finger on TV’s problem when she said: “Young people expect their news in real time, relying on mobile devices rather than television.”

So local news tries to morph into the technologies that killing it. That stuff never works. Like Heather Unruh’s complaint about female “reporters” having to wear off-the-shoulder cocktail attire to cover a two-bagger in Lynn. As if you can’t get scantily-clad females on the Internet.

But the worst trend in local TV news may be how they’ve turned every broadcast into America’s Lamest Home Videos. Are there any more chilling words on the local news than when an anchor (usually the female) flashes a vapid smile and says, “And now, here’s a video that’s gone viral….”

Stand by for a cuddly kitten, or maybe an adorable parrot that whistles Dixie. (ital.) Honey, where’s the remote? (end ital.)

Gone viral? No wonder the audience has gone fishing.

This is why the new local NBC newscast in Boston can’t draw flies. Nobody new is coming to the dance. At least the established stations have the old-timers who’ve been watching since the days of Jack Chase and Don Kent. It’s a habit – a bad habit, granted, but those superannuated audiences still represent numbers the other stations can sell to furniture stores and car dealers.

Maybe NBC Boston (or is it Boston NBC?) will do better when Sunday Night Football starts again and viewers have a reason to tune into the Peacock at least one night a week. But right now, if all the stations are showing the same “gone viral” Facebook video of a bear in a backyard in Kansas tipping over a trash can, you might as well watch it on the station you’ve been watching for years.

Or not watching, increasingly.

“Breaking news alert… storm team coverage… weather watchers, send us a photo of sunrise… how much snow did we get – look at this yardstick…. Police say that if you see the cute coyote, call the animal-control officer…Only on 7…. Forecast: partly cloudy, or is it partly sunny?”

We’ll be back with more of this alleged news in a moment.

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Howie Carr is the New York Times best-selling author of The Brothers Bulger and Hitman, in addition to several other Boston organized-crime books and two novels. He is the host of a New England-wide radio talk-show syndicated to more than 20 stations, and is a member of the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Heather Unruh is only the latest in a long line of middle-aged (and still very attractive) women with this complaint. It’s the nature of the job. Local News hasn’t mattered for decades, only the eye-candy reading it to you. I don’t expect ANY truth from Ch 7, just hotties acting like they matter…

  2. I always love the snowstorm coverage: Some poor schmuck of a reporter is sent to stand outdoors in the blizzard, taking pictures of snow-covered cars and streets, while viewers try to warm themselves after … shoveling the snow that they’re watching fall. … as if they didn’t already know that it was snowing.

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