Every morning, after I feed the animals and get my coffee, I sit down to read the news. And the first site I go to is a local news website called CNYCentral.com.
I used to go to the local ABC affiliate, but all their national news stories are cribbed from CNN, so I switched.
But it doesn’t seem to matter what local news site I use. I always stumble across stories that absolutely make me crazy.
Yesterday morning, a nine-year-old boy was shot and killed by his ten-year-old brother using an illegal firearm owned by his father.
Good Lord. How awful.
But here’s now CNYCentral headlined this story yesterday evening:
See, the problem for the local news is this shooting took place Monday morning.
So by the time the eleven o’clock broadcast aired, the story was old.
So CNYCentral needed to create an immediacy around an old story.
And that’s how they did it.
These kinds of headlines make me nuts. The heart of the story is a nine-year-old is dead. But because it happened hours and hours beforehand, they needed a more immediate hook.
So that’s what they chose: “West side neighbors shocked.”
There are two reasons why local newscasts do this sort of thing.
First, they have to create the illusion that every news story has a significant impact on the local community at large.
So they can’t just put a headline that says, “Nine-Year-Old shot and killed by his Ten-Year-Old brother this morning.”
No. Instead of simply reporting the news, they report on how that story makes people on the periphery of the story feel.
When you look for it, you’ll be shocked to discover how often local newscasters use the words “community,” “neighborhood,” or “neighbors” in their lead-ins for stories.
The idea is to create the illusion that every local news story somehow personally affects you or your “community.”
And they don’t just do it for local news.
They do it for all news.
You’ve probably noticed that.
You’ll get headlines like, “Local Barcelona natives speak out about van attack.”
Or “Local New Orleans residents speak out on anniversary of Katrina.”
Since there are national newscasts, local news still wants to be able to cover national stories, so they choose to give it that “local spin” in order to make you feel like you’re a part of it.
But here’s the other reason they do it.
All news on the local level have to have that immediate, present-tense “Happening Now” feel to it. Even if the news happened hours and hours earlier.
They won’t open a local newscast at eleven at night by saying, “This morning on the West side…”
Viewers need to be given the impression that this is a breaking story even when it broke hours earlier.
So they’ll open the story by saying something like, “A community is in shock tonight after a nine-year-old boy was shot and killed by his brother Monday on the West Side.”
The only way they hope to keep an audience’s attention is to create the illusion that every news story – even the ones that happened several days ago – have immediate, present impact.
And they do it for ratings.
They’re afraid that you’ll turn the channel if the news sounds old.
So they give it all that “Happening Now” feel to keep you interested.
And that’s why it makes me crazy.
It’s a deliberate formula.
And knowing it’s deliberate makes it all kinds of phony.
Next time you watch the local news, look for this.
Trust me, it ain’t just Syracuse. Your guys do it too.
In fact, I think you’ll be surprised how often they do it.
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