Wherein I make fun of TV News

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Claude Adams, an excellent writer, tells the sad, funny story of the day he lost his job because the dog didn't die. (And let me just say up front that I feel sad for Claude, but his mistake totally sounds like a firing offense to me).

Regarding his larger points about the decline of TV news, I don't think the arrow of causality points the way Claude thinks it does.

TV news does a very good job at displaying visually compelling news. Not surprisingly, most TV News shows focus on the visually compelling.

TV news is terrible at presenting stories that are not visually compelling. It is very hard (and very time-consuming) to create a coherent, deep explanation of a story that is not telegenic (for example, the federal budget). By comparison, the written word deals with such stories fabulously well: an essay on the budget is likely to pay your attention, on a per-minute basis, with far more information density, and in a form that more easily invites thoughtful perusal and reconsideration.

Adding to the annoyance, TV news is not inherently skippable. Claude mentioned that he worked on a 90 minute news show. Looking through the Globe and Mail cover to cover takes me about 30 minutes if I'm being leisurely. That isn't the time to read every article, but that's the time to look at every headline, skim the interesting-looking ones, and read everything of real interest. Meanwhile, the TV News would be one-third done, and I would have sat through a series of stories that were more likely to annoy me (Harry Potter premiere? Skip. Running of the Bulls? Watch, but seriously, Maximum Exposure covers that event better. Lost hiker in Lions Bay? Unless you tell me about the rescue techniques, I probably don't care) than inform me. Yes, I could watch pre-recorded and use my PVR to jump the bad stories, but I could also just read the newspaper, or go online.

(It's telling that I regularly hit the cbc.ca home page to check news stories, and I search their old stories that way as well. The online news system they've created is quite excellent, even if it's built under a TV news service I never watch).

So TV news is bad at complex stories, and good at visually compelling stories, and the dog didn't die? Try not to learn too much from this.