I was recently discussing the US television broadcast news delivery style with an American student in journalism. Though a decade separates us in age, we both deplore the fact that in the last few years, news has truly become a new form of entertainment in its own right – especially in the US compared,to say, Canada or Japan. And we were not talking about the loss of objectivity, not that we had nothing to complain here, or that we never believed it existed. But, not too long ago it seems, subjectivity was so well hidden that you could almost believe in the pure objective reporting of facts. Nowadays, there is an apparent carelessness, a laxness close to negligence when it comes to disguising subjectivity. That is pretty much out in the open. We won’t even discuss that. What we strongly disapprove of is how covering of the news in the U.S. has turned into a tragicomedy.
What we have seen is a growing trend in anchors and reporters trying to rival each other’s performances by outwitting their counterparts using puns or funny comments, with hit or miss results that can really cause an attentive audience to either cringe or express relief. During the reporting of more dramatic or catastrophic news, you may see a display of emotions bordering on sadness, distress and even outrage, with comments that leave you suspicious. You find yourself doubting the credibility of the report –while it continues – as you evaluate the acting skills of the journalists, and wonder if you can trust them.
Unfair? I am aware there is a human being with feelings behind the journalist, and I do expect an occasional relaxation in self-control. But to completely abandon poise and aplomb to improvise humor or drama on every possible occasion leaves me dumbfounded and somewhat disappointed.
Another distracting behavior is the news crew engaging in a round of self-indulging camaraderie, with teasing and innocent games of seduction. Oh dear. And while this occurs, the audience forgets about the news. The anchorman becomes Joe, wine aficionado father of three, and the meteorologist becomes Laura, owner of a cat and a dog that get along: “Isn’t that crazy Joe? Oh, and by the way, it’s raining cats and dogs ha-ha!” What a plug.
Yes, the forces of the market have spoken. People want to be entertained. Broadcasters know they are competing with a gazillion other entertainment oriented channels, and they want to keep their viewers from changing the channel. Who can blame them? That's where the money is. They need an edge, a competitive advantage. They have the news that people want, but this audience needs more sugar coating. Their TV is primarily their sensation feeding tube, and they can get their “fix” just about everywhere. The solution is to merge entertainment with news, resulting in entertainews, the perfect candy for the masses.
I can only sympathize with those elegant, smart and serious anchors, reporters, and journalists who may be under pressure to be funny, dramatic, overly sympathetic , and buddy-buddy with their colleagues to reach the audience…or rather to keep it. It’s no longer enough to look "glamour good" -which in itself is a rather debatable recruiting criterion- you must perform. I am indeed frustrated with the current trend and wish we could stick to a classic approach in news delivery. But, this is wishful thinking, as more people in the U.S.A. are asking for entertainment, perhaps to maintain a certain level of optimism during testing political and social circumstances. Fair enough. So I momentarily and diplomatically surrender to the will of the majority, by adapting and accepting this reality: at 6pm news time tonight, I will provide the popcorn for everyone.