Local TV news full of misguided speculation

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I try to refrain as much as possible from watching the local news for two basic reasons: there is too much speculation and there is too much negativity.

My family was glued to the TV Jan. 28 when an abandoned suicide attempt on commuter train tracks in Glendale killed 11 people. This was because one of our family members was on the train. Naturally, we switched back and forth between local news coverage to see if any of them had new or better information. To our surprise, each channel told a different story. Besides the similarity of the pictures, one could hardly believe the same story was being covered. One of the channels even entertained the notion that the crash was caused by terrorism, even though there was no evidence whatsoever to support this claim.

It is my understanding that news broadcasting and reporting is supposed to be an objective affair. We turn to the news to see what is going on in our world, not what might be going on.

But maybe what I mistakenly call “speculation” is the news’ attempt to piece together the facts, which is possible. Perhaps the news is, for the most part, objective. Then my next question is the following: Does objectivity necessarily entail negativity?

There appears to be a very strict formula to which all news broadcasting conforms. First, talk about something violent. Next, talk about something pertaining to animals, nature, or the environment. And lastly, talk about someone famous, and if possible, talk about something bad happening to that person.

Some may think this portrait of local news coverage is an unfair rendering. In fact, I even doubted it myself, so I turned on the news to see if my ideas were slightly over-exaggerated.

Besides covering our unusual weather situation, the top stories as I noted this last week were: “Gang War in Local Streets,” “Tiger Killed,” “Kobe Case,” “Michael Jackson Trial,” “Anna Kournikova’s Stalker,” and “Malibu Horse Rescued.” Not including the first, each of these stories was covered on at least two separate stations.

I don’t doubt that all of these stories carry significance. For instance, it is important to know whether role model celebrities, such as Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson, deserve such praise. And it is touching to hear that the fire department saved a horse. But my question is, are animals and celebrities the most important things for the news to cover?

As I said before, we watch the news to see what’s going on. Television news portrays the world in a solely negative light. Imagine someone who only watches the news for their information, and rarely leaves their home. To this person, the world would seem a cold, dark place. But are news viewers being told the whole story? In other words, how often is a positive story showed on the news?

When I was watching the news, what promised to be an incredibly positive and uplifting story was aired, called “First Lady Thanks First Lady.” This story featured California first lady Maria Shriver being given an award for her charity work from former first lady Nancy Reagan. Or at least that is what I think the story is about, as it ran for far less than a minute. Positive portrayals of our society are simply not often found in media coverage.

At this point, my concerns may sound trivial. It may sound like I am arguing for ridding television news of any and all negativity, but this is not my goal. I understand the world is not a perfect place, and bad things certainly do occur.

What I wonder about is what television news classifies as “bad things,” and whether or not they are truly bad. Why is Anna Kournikova’s having a stalker more important than any other person having one? Understanding the answer to this question is imperative. Indeed, the answer is a matter of opinion, as far as I can tell, and the news is not in the business of giving opinions.

But airing a story with such a focus presupposes a stance in this matter, enforces certain values, and thus crosses the line of objectivity.

As students, we are educated people. We have been taught to take information in critically. Speculation and pure negativity to us are just that. However, to uncritical eyes and uneducated people, such speculation and negativity appear as cold hard facts.

Ideally, negative stories on local television news should consist of more substance, and contain less focus on petty issues, as well as include more positive and fact-based stories.

Until that happens, keep an eye out for those touching animal stories.

Josh DiPaolo is a double major in English and philosophy.