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March 31, 2013

Column: Television news can give you the blues

Last July, a Gallup poll said 21 percent of American adults had a “great deal” of confidence in TV news, which is odd even though it is a minority, seeing as how there is so little really, truly to have confidence in.

The wisdom of the majority in not much trusting TV is surely more justified. Yes, there is some splendid reporting. And even if liberal bias still dominates, there’s Fox News, born in the 1990s, now outrunning its cable competitors in ratings and affording the public interpretations and subject choices decidedly less dependent on neo-socialist, big-government amiability.

It does not follow that the citizenry had as much opportunity for true enlightenment in this most recent presidential election as it should have or that we aren’t witnessing a continuing tumble in much that calls itself news.

The respected Pew Research Center recently completed a study comparing TV news in 2007 to 2012. It found that local TV news — infrequently much more than sensational snippets in my watching experience — is devoting increasing time to traffic, weather and sports. That may be useful and fun, though it is not exactly what James Madison meant when he said the people must be armed with knowledge if they are to keep government from becoming a farce and a tragedy.

To be sure, other news is there in itsy-bitsy bites, but young people aren’t watching and it’s getting ever harder for the stations to pull in the dollars necessary for oomph down the road, the study says.

The national networks? Their viewership is half what it was 30 years ago and the future doesn’t look exactly like fireworks and shouts of hallelujah. Nevertheless, the number of nightly viewers (some 22 million) is about seven times larger than cable news viewers (roughly 3 million). The content has stayed relatively unruffled, just little things changing, such as ABC putting more emphasis on lifestyle stories.

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