Once upon a time, I spent just enough time to grab a cup of coffee as a TV sports reporter, during college. I don't remember much about that gig, except that on air I wore a suit coat and tie to show above the desk and shorts and sandals underneath it. It didn't take me long to realize that I didn't particularly want to spend entire days doing in-depth coverage of an event that would get cut to 15 seconds of airtime when the lead story about the waterskiing squirrel ran long.
Don't think I've seen any network news on an actual television set for probably 10 years or more. Still, I'm curious about the medium, and more than a little entertained by those who make it.
Especially the weather reporter - oh sorry, "meteorological presenter." I love the fact that they just have to go outside and dramatically pose on the highway overpass for their segment, because we wouldn't believe them that it is raining or windy otherwise. They can make a few flakes into a blizzard or a stiff breeze into a hurricane. Ever watch a southern California weather reporter in a parka deliver dire disaster warnings when the temperature threatens to fall to 60 degrees?
Apparently there is a massive national trend toward dangerously plunging necklines among female weather reporters, and heck, possibly male ones too for all I know. I do recall seeing the article "America's 15 Hottest Weather Forecasters" on the news website Business Insider, which says a lot about why most online news organizations should have air quotes around the term "news."
I used to like watching Sports Center on TV before I headed to bed. It's on at all hours - 4 a.m., I kid you not - and was a handy way to catch the scores.
Somewhere along the line, though, TV sports reporters turned into stand-up comics, and sports news into one endless "Top Ten" list. Top ten plays of the day, followed by the top ten plays of the week and the top ten plays of the month, followed in turn by the ten worst plays of the day and the top ten most hilarious sports bloopers, the washed-up quarterback's ten favorite passes of the day, and finally the top ten top ten lists to close out the show. I blame David Letterman for starting this. You can watch an hour of a sports news broadcast and never find out how the day's actual sports events came out.
Apparently if you are blonde enough, you can opt to be a "sideline reporter," which seems to be an actual thing. "Coach, coach, what do you need to do in the second half?" they always ask. "Well Staci-Heather, I'm thinking we may need to score more than the other team." Cue look on reporter's face as if they have just uncovered the location of Jimmy Hoffa and the lost island of Atlantis as they throw it back to the studio. Six years of mom and dad paying tuition in the finest journalism school for this. But, I guess that if Lee Corso can make a living out of putting on mascot heads, anything is fair game.
There's always a bit of a rub between TV news and print news people, who share turf warily at any event. We accept each other, but like the Sharks and Jets in West Side Story, we may dance, but we don't mix.
It's easy to tell the difference. The TV reporter looks like he or she hangs out in the trendiest clubs. The newspaper reporters, well, they just look like they've been beaten with clubs.
TV reporters are Vogue and GQ, newspaper reporters a Salvation Army dumpster dive. Newspaper guys can't match socks, and TV reporters can't get a zit.
Our TV brethren don't seem to age, either. They are always perpetually 27ish. Maybe they lock them into a hidden production room somewhere when they hit 30 and the skin on the bottom of their arms begins to jiggle. There are exceptions, of course, people like Larry Wentz and Kevin Cooney who have served Iowa admirably for decades.
Where the newspaper reporter may grunt for hours crawling around looking for the perfect angle for a photograph at a news event, investigating leads, collecting and double-checking data and interviewing sources, it seems like the TV reporter screeches up in their neon-painted company van, plants a camera somewhere (preferably right where it will be in the way of the rest of the media), gets the star-struck neighbor to stand in front of it for a sentence or two, then packs up for Starbucks. I'm sure it's more difficult than that. Starbucks are hard to find.
It's been interesting to see the TV reporters, especially the national people, roll up on major presidential candidates when they campaign in the area. At Bernie Sanders' event, they all set their identical cameras on auto-pilot atop their identical tripods in the same identical spot. It's as if there is an unspoken agreement that no one would try anything different. Covering a leading presidential candidate is kind of a big deal to a guy like me, but they seemed bored and jaded by it all. Throughout, they sat on the floor and poked away at laptops and cell phones. They didn't even look at the man, took no notice of the reactions of his audience. I wonder if some of them even heard a word he said. It seemed very automaton, and it makes me glad I don't cover politics every day.
Every candidate I've covered has ripped the media for some slight against them that is mostly in their imaginations, but I fear the industry's real sin has been superficiality. We record and play/type back the promises, but never hold their feet to the fire on how they plan to achieve or pay for them. We dutifully repeat poll results, but don't connect with people enough to find out the whys behind the ups and downs.
One thing all of us have in common is changing news technology. It's a wonderful thing - we can reach more people, faster. Our reporter today, while gathering a story, may be pecking out comments on Twitter, updating websites, shooting still photos with one hand and video to post online with the other, while searching for a hotspot to promote it all on Facebook. A reporter once took a day or week to compose prose, now it better be on a half dozen social media sites within five minutes.
Many college graduates entering the field seem to be taught few skills in English, grammar, law or ethics, but they sure do know how to compose entertaining tweets.
I don't envy TV reporters their pressures, their mileage or their ennui. I'm glad I tried it. Once.