I don’t want to dwell on this but I have to say that TV news — especially local TV news — sucks. It favors heat over light. It repeats much, saying little. It goes overboard on weather, sticking rulers in the snow to show how it grows or standing in the wind to prove it blows. It adores fires — which, though terrible for those in their path, usually affect few — because TV news values video über alles. It delivers BREAKING NEWS that isn’t breaking at all but is too often long-over, repetitive, obvious, or trivial. It gullibly and dutifully flacks for PR events created just for TV. It presents complex issues with false and simplistic balance. It picks fights. It talks with only the usual suspects. It speaks in the voice of plastic people. It stages reality (the shot of the reporter nodding — called a “noddy” in the UK — is for the camera only, as is the subject’s stroll down the hall to nowhere in particular — that’s “B-roll”). Worst of all are the location-shot stand-ups, as when network and local reporters trudged with their satellite trucks and crews to the George Washington Bridge to talk about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a scandal around closed traffic lanes there — even though there were no sources, no officials, no witnesses, and no victims to speak with; in short, there was no journalism to be done there. To TV news, all the world’s a stage and its people merely props. TV news wastes precious journalistic resource without holding itself accountable for the value it delivers.
But I don’t want to dwell on that. Instead, I want to examine what TV could do well.
TV can convene the public to action.
TV can summarize, sometimes too well perhaps. But delivering a quick overview of what’s happening is a useful function of news.
TV can curate, bringing together divergent reports and viewpoints.
TV can explain a complex topic and doesn’t have to dumb it down.
TV can demonstrate.
TV can foster collaboration, having witnesses share what they are seeing and what they know.
TV can discuss and needn’t shout.
TV can give voice to countless new perspectives now that everyone has a camera on laptop or phone.
TV can humanize without cynically patronizing or manufacturing a personality.
TV on the internet can now be freed from the need to fill a clock. It can expand past video.
TV can be two-way.
TV can now create assets of lasting value instead of just talk that fills time.