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A new way of doing the news

September 22, 2011
By Andy Heller , Daily Press

FLINT - It was a moment that will live in television history, the moment everything changed. And it happened, incredibly enough, in my family room as I watched the news with the lovely yet formidable Marcia.

It was Sunday morning. Or maybe Saturday. I can't remember which. Whatever the case, the CBS morning news was on and the anchors were telling us about a book that described the Obama White House as a hostile work environment for women.

OK, that's moderately interesting, I thought, although probably untrue. Obama has his flaws, but does he seem anti-woman to you?

Article Photos

Andy Heller

The report dutifully debunked the claim by running comments from the women who were quoted in the book. They said they either didn't make those claims or were misquoted. And in days of journalism yore, the story would have ended there.

But in today's TV media, there's always one more speculative twist of the knife, so the anchor said something to the effect of, "The president's critics might use the fact that he plays basketball and golf without women as fuel to the book's fire."

Marcia and I each groaned so hard it hurt. Really? The president plays golf and basketball without women? Call in the re-education squad for the National Organization for Women with their night sticks and thumb screws.

"I am so sick of how they do the news these days," Marcia said. I am, too. And that's when national TV news changed forever and for better. For it is at that exact moment that I cried, "Eureka!" (Really. I did that. I'm that way.)

"Uh, eureka?" Marcia said.

"Yes, eureka," I replied. "Mark the time, sweetie, I think I know how to fix TV news!"

"Oh, jeez, here we go again," she muttered.

"What's that?" I said, not quite hearing her.

"Oh, nothing. Please share."

So here it is: JNN - the Just News Network.

JNN will be the opposite of CNN and the networks in that it will ban absurdity, babble, balderdash, baloney, bombast, bull*, bunk, claptrap, drivel, fatuity, fluff, foolishness, gibberish, giddiness, hogwash, hooey, hot air, hype, imprudence, inanity monkeyshines, nonsense and tomfoolery.

Oh, and pretty people. And hair spray.

On JNN, there will be no fire-stirring, no speculation, no inspirational stories, no slices of life, no weepy stories of incredible courage in the face of tragedy, no trying to inflate stories into something they're not. Instead, we'll offer the news delivered in simple, declarative sentences devoid of inflection.

Lord, I hate inflection. It's how news anchors, reporters and analysts subtly spin the news when they're not overtly spinning it. One of them will come on screen and say something like, "The president wants to raise taxes on the wealthy." Except they'll say it like this: "The president (slight shake of head) wants to - get this - RAISE taxes. On the wealthy!" Which really means, "You won't believe this but the president wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. Now. In this economy. Can you believe it? He's going to be the ruin of us all! Chaos will reign. Hide your daughters."

On JNN we won't do that. We will, in fact, remove from our anchors whatever part of the vocal cord that allows human beings to inflect, the idea being that if given the news straight you can decide for yourself what it means.

Think of JNN as raw news, organic news, news that will tell you the sky is falling only if the sky is indeed falling. Like actual chunks of it.

If there's a hurricane, our anchors will matter-of-factly show you the path of the storm and what the meteorologists say about potential wind speeds and what happened in past similar storms.

They will not be allowed to build what could be a tropical depression or even a middle of the road hurricane into the "Perfect Storm," and will in fact be fired on the spot - on air - if they so much as mention that book/movie for the simple reason that there can only be one perfect storm, and to suggest that every storm can possibly turn into a perfect storm - in other words, the worst storm ever - is to at once suggest the obvious (anything could, of course, turn out to the worst ever, but you'll never know it until afterward, at which time, yes, you can call it what it was) and diminish that which was historic.

Nor will our reporters do stories telling you to seek shelter during powerful storms. We'll figure that if you're too stupid to do that anyway then us telling you isn't going to help anyway.

Similarly, during a hurricane, our reporters will not report to you live from a pier while leaning 45 degrees into a 120 mph wind. Why? Because it's stupid. Our reporters will be safe and sound in the studio where any sane person would be.

The same goes for floods. It will be a rule for flood coverage that JNN reporters will not insult your intelligence by standing in waders in two feet of water and saying, "Before the storm, this was a street, and now look at it."

Ditto for blizzards. JNN reporters, I assure you, will not stand outside in a raging blizzard and say to you, "Don't come out here, it's far too dangerous, almost impassable!" Because we know that what you at home are saying is, "Well, if it's so dangerous and impassable, what are you doing out there, you nitwit."

And when it comes to politics, JNN will not speculate or analyze. Speculation and analyzation are why Americans hate politics even more than they used to hate it, which is a lot.

Tell me what good it does anyone to have people from opposite parties argue politics on programs that are dubbed "news?" Does anyone expect the Republican to say about the Democrat, "Hey, you're right. I never thought of it like that," or vice versa? No. Then it's pointless blather and thus a waste of time.

You won't see junk like that on JNN. What you will see is a single person of advanced middle age wearing thick, horned-rim glasses sitting behind a desk reading news off of a piece of paper in understated fashion, something along these lines: "World War III started today. More as it develops." We may even broadcast in black and white.

"So what do you think?" I asked Marcia.

"Brilliant," she said, rolling her eyes. "Although you realize that's exactly how the TV news was back in the 1960s when Walter Cronkite was doing it, right?"

Exactly.

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EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at aheller@flintjournal.com.

 
 

 

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