[Even the Royal Lichtenstein Circus audiences could get trashy!]
About the only television I watch aside from performance specials are newscasts. I barely tolerate the local news which seems endless from mid-afternoon on and obsesses itself with sports summaries, weather reports, and violent crime. What makes a half-hour of such drivel passable is my arrangement to have it on in the living room while I am in the kitchen preparing dinner. At least the promise of a meal is filling.
There is a sensitivity which must govern my appraisal of such local news casting, because a beloved former student and colleague has made a significant part of his life the reporting and anchoring of some prestigious local news programs. His work has more than once earned him an Emmy. Several years ago I asked him why local television news is so saturated with reports of violent crime. He replied that it was done in function of the service a community demands and deserves. Such a combination of expectation and warrant defines broadcast missions.
Nevertheless, I find myself wondering about the folks who sit at that desk evening after evening and rehearse the never-ending parade of my sobbing, slaughtered and sluiced neighbors. I repeatedly ask, between my own gasps and surprised tears what a viewing audience has done to deserve such information. Does all this come down just because we happen to inhabit this urban locale? Unfairly my anger fixes on the faces delivering such fare, the anchors and their reporters. Emotionally I want to shoot the messengers, stupidly forgetting that the messages will still be around.
I watch the same network for local and national news because I trust most of the network’s political editing at the national level. I do not agree with the all of the political posturing of the local station, but I let the news play out. So I know the faces of our local co-anchors very well and one of them lives nearby. One morning he unwittingly fleshed out what my former student was trying to teach me.
The guy is fifty-ish and in very good shape sporting a trim physique he maintains with serious running. I first spotted him and his wife at an outside Starbuck’s table a block from my home. It was then that I knew he might be a neighbor, and since then I have seen him running on the bike trails I happen to walk. I’ve had plenty of occasions to be sure I’ve identified the right character. There’s quite a difference between his appearance in a suit and tie on screen and in athletic gear on the street. His appearances, however, are not what have impressed me. What I have seen him do on many occasions has commanded my admiration.
He might be waiting for a pedestrian light to change, or just making use of odd spare time. But the evening’s collector of messy news stories regularly picks up the day’s trash from the gutters of a very busy intersection we both use. Sometimes he goes to each of five corners at that very clumsy interchange.
What my student said is born out. News reporting, perhaps especially at the local level, can be a very real function of one’s service to the community. That’s why newscasters win recognition. My neighbor earned the Peabody Award for his station in 1986.