Stranger than fiction - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Stranger than fiction

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Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2004 11:25 pm | Updated: 5:15 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

So, weeknight reruns of the animated sitcom “The Simpsons” are outdrawing five out of the six Phoenix 10 p.m. TV news shows.

While we in newspapering can sympathize — many readers prefer the comics, crossword puzzles and horoscopes to news stories or even (gasp) the editorial pages — can anyone who watches Valley television news be surprised?

Television journalists often dismiss the viewing public’s requests to put more meat into their news reporting by replying that their broadcasts are mere headline services, a light dusting of information.

This is largely true. Those looking for more depth by tuning into local TV news often find themselves in the shallow end of the media swimming pool. And yet we know that our world contains many areas of intense interest.

Yes, newspapers have much more room to report details than does television. But we certainly know that violent crime — the main staple of local TV journalism because it is so easy to cover — has been on the decline each year for the past decade. You wouldn’t glean that from the constant panorama of yellow police tape, flashing red lights, menacing graphics and throbbing bass line that dominate local TV newscasts.

The reason? Local TV news shows fill their precious minutes with human misery and promotions of their nightly prime-time entertainment lineups in a quest to keep our eyes glued to them for just a few more minutes, earn some ratings points and raise their advertising rates — often at the expense of such information as about taxes going up, waste in government spending or a new law affecting thousands.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Recent studies from the Pew Center for People and the Press show that top-quality newscasts — the kind with strong, substantive, authoritative journalism — can and do result in similar ratings as do poor-quality ones saturated with fluff and hype. Top-quality reporting costs more to produce, but such reporting’s reputation builds upon itself over time and doesn’t need constant reinvention as is needed involving the can-you-top-this nature of the shallow, baseless, titillating stuff.

If this week news managers at Valley TV stations are scratching their heads over Valley viewers’ preference of “The Simpsons” — perhaps they ought to retool their programs’ content in accord with the axiom that truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction.

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