Lanny Larson: Breaking news: Forget hype and deliver it straight

FresnoApril 11, 2014 

Many years ago, The Bee paid me to inform readers about what and who was on TV and radio. If it wasn't for the whole eating thing, I would have done it for nothing.

The editor who assigned me to the "Broadcast Beat" told me to be critical, but fair. I'd worked in radio and TV news, and he hoped I'd be informed, opinionated, entertaining and not drive off advertisers.

Mostly, he was right. Some advertising drifted away, mostly part of a nationwide trend not because of my occasionally caustic ravings. I moved to other duties and the broadcast beat became Rick Bentley's, whose easy way with words, boundless curiosity and unsurpassed knowledge about all things media now serve me perfectly as a reader.

Like everyone, though, I have thoughts about TV and radio, most recently about TV's current vocabulary:

"Epic" is the threat of an inch of winter snow in the South, or East Coast summer high temperatures above 90.

"Raging," "torrential," "drenching," "bitter" and "searing" routinely describe rivers, rain, cold and heat.

"Extreme," "alert," "storm," "hazard," "no end in sight" and "warning" underscore even weather's most predictable aspects.

Weather wizards "are tracking" all meteorological events, no matter if they're long over. Most weather reports feature colorful animation that largely has replaced more costly coverage from the field.

"So many of us" or "We've all been watching" are phrases signaling that a trending cull from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TMZ, CNN or ESPN is about to be injected into the newscast to attract someone younger than me who likely saw this hours, days, weeks ago on their iPhone. I spend time online, so even in my elderliness, I've probably seen it, too.

Reporters "reach out to," not ask for, comment or clarification.

"No immediate response" means the reporter didn't make contact by deadline, implying that reporter and deadline are more important than the person's response because the story will run anyway.

Then, when the newsmaker "reaches out to" the reporter, a "new" story is generated. It's introduced by "This just in" or "New developments in" and may — or may not — add to the initial report, most of which will be repeated.

"Breaking news" typically happened a few hours ago, only now there's a live truck and breathless reporter trying to resuscitate what isn't worthy of the D, F or E block, but leads the newscast anyway, complete or not.

"Developing story" signals even older news, as if the introductory graphic gives more importance and an appearance of freshy-ness.

"Now," the new "um" or "er," often leads every sentence of a live report to mask gaps in available information, ad libbing and/or distraction by someone at the scene, or a director back in the studio talking in the reporter's earpiece.

"New developments" means "speculation." TV hires people specifically to speculate about everything from courtroom tactics and local politics to aircraft accidents and people unknown to the speculator. That speculation is then presented as news.

"No rain! Extreme drought! Soaring food prices! Epic disaster! California blowing away! The president's concern! What does it mean?" It means producers "back East" hope exclamations and hyperventilating sentence fragments will trick viewers into overlooking that the producers overlooked a very big story "out West."

"West," by the way, is anywhere beyond a six-hour drive west from Manhattan and, therefore, not worthy of further geographical reference. "Firestorm out West!" (Don't forget that exclamation point!), not "Firestorm near Grand Canyon (or Denver or Keokuk, Iowa)." (Hold that exclamation point, please.)

"Reporting live from the newsroom" is preferable to reporting dead from anywhere.

Of course those are just the opinions of one viewer, but when I rant on Facebook, "friends" have plenty to say, too. Mostly we agree that we can do with fewer theatrics and more information.

Give it to us straight; we can take it.


Lanny Larson, who is retired from The Bee and Fresno State, is a freelance editor and writer based in Clovis.

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