Picture a snowstorm barreling down on a Midwestern city like say, oh, I don’t know, Chicago. The weather guys have been warning everyone about this thing for days and days and days. Of course, you live in Chicago so you are very aware of the fact that once November comes around a snowstorm is very likely and even probable. If you have lived here for most of your life you might even be used to these things. Yes, they can be a nuisance but they also make the city look pretty for a while and, really, compared to other things it isn’t so bad. The day the storm comes you flip on the news and you are surprised to find that the television news department seems to have gone out and recruited new people to send to every far-flung corner of the city to stand on a street corner and report.
Surely this must be a mistake, you think. Surely this means the television news has been taken over by radicals who think it is necessary to place people with cameras and microphones at every corner in the city showing nothing and talking about nothing. As correspondent after correspondent comes on to do a report you watch as men and women, most of them completely grown up, stand in front of a street or the airport and give a report that means nothing. They do this hours before the snow starts to fall. Essentially this means they are reporting about nothing. They have no reason to be standing where they are standing. Nothing is actually happening where they are standing except that people are walking behind them and many of them are making obscene gestures.
This is the state of modern news these days. When the television first started showing news broadcasts they essentially had a guy in a studio reading the news. It wasn’t as easy in those early days to get a camera and crew out to a street corner somewhere. The cameras weighed just slightly less than a new Chrysler and they didn’t have video tapes then. So, what you got was a guy who told you the news and then you went to bed. From my understanding those early newscasts were maybe fifteen minutes long. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the way things should be again.
I remember when I first started noticing that things were getting ridiculous. You see it the most in the Chicago area when it comes to snowstorms. In the 80s or perhaps in the 90s I was over at a friend’s house and we were watching the news. It had snowed and then there was ice. The news people cut to some guy shivering in his suit and tie and neatly-cut and styled hair standing near an alley in what could have been any neighborhood in the city. He held an empty tape box in his hand. He then knelt down and threw the tape box across the sheet of ice to demonstrate how ice was slippery. You know, just in case you weren’t aware of the fact that ice was slippery and that when water froze it turned into ice.
Now the news feels compelled to do this kind of thing all the time. I have no idea what smaller cities and towns do for local coverage. The larger the city the more correspondents the news stations seem to have. Some countries don’t have armies as large as the legions of correspondents the local news people have. With all of those people you have to make them do something. It’s like every day some news director looks around, realizes he has too many people and too much equipment and should use it for something. So, not sure what else to do, he sends them out to stand outside of things for no particular reason other than it looks better to have them standing outside than standing around in the hall near the restroom.
Here in Chicago the Cook County Board President had a massive stroke earlier this year. We were subjected to day after day of correspondents standing outside of the hospital. Why? Did the guy come out and dance? No. Did he peek out the window? No. Did a doctor come out regularly and make some kid of announcement about his condition? No. It was just guys and gals standing in front of the hospital, often with the Emergency Room sign in the background, talking for no reason other than somewhere within that building the guy they were talking about was, most likely, sleeping. They could have been standing in front of any building they wanted, really, for all the benefit actually standing in front of the hospital actually did.
I blame the proliferation of the 24-hour cable news networks. It must have seemed like a great idea at the time they were created. Sure, you would have someone on watch 24-hours a day so no matter where or when you could be the first ones to cover the story. When it comes to things like wars and massive storms this may be a good thing, I guess. However, there tends to be long pieces of time between disaster when those people have nothing to do. As such you have to send them out somewhere because people now want pictures that move and things moving behind the correspondents. Therefore every correspondent in the world is forced to spend hours and hours standing around outside.
On the other hand the 24-hour services also love to send correspondents into intense storms for no apparent reason. Do we not all know that hurricanes cause things to blow around a lot? Haven’t the pictures showing the aftermath been enough over the years to get this point across? Do we have to have the film of the sign from a local store blowing down the street and crashing right in front of the news guy? Do we only consider revising this when some poor pretty correspondent gets her head lopped off by a metal street sign?
News stories where nothing happens is not a news story. The news is full of the non-news stories. They cut to some guy who has nothing new to report and nothing has happened. So, the correspondent essentially says that nothing happened and then throws it back to the anchor. Nothing new has been learned, no developments have been reported and there was no reason for that guy or girl to be standing in front of that random building reporting nothing. Are the journalism schools full of people who are learning how to do this? I took a reporting class once and I don’t remember the class about reporting the non-news story.
So, the next time you see some guy or gal with perfect hair standing in the cold throwing tape boxes or God knows what else across sheets of ice feel sorry for them. They are just hoping to eventually move into a spot where they can sit in the warm studio and just read a teleprompter. How is it that the people who sit there and read get paid more than the people standing around shivering and throwing things at glaciers? The mind boggles. Film at 11.