The local tv stations’ advertising rates are determined during these prime months, so they set out to get as many eyeballs glued to their screens as possible. Consequently, they’re big on stories designed to exploit fear and anxiety (a boogieman may be outside your house), faux health studies (eating chocolate may improve your IQ), and how kids are at risk (going on the internet leads to illegal drug dependency).
But this year, local stations were handed manna from heaven. We had Anna Nicole Smith, whose notoriety seems to have been based on a willingness to show off her botox and silicone improvements, keeling over in Florida, followed by the fight over where to bury her. Then we had men lining up to claim they had fathered her million-dollar baby. Added to this was the drawn out cratering of Britney Spears, who partied without her panties, shaved her head, checked in and out of rehab, and then battled a car with an umbrella.
I kept wondering what a death in Florida and a celebrity freak-out in California had to do with local news. But the more local tv news I watched during the past month, the more I realized that very little of what goes by that name is truly local. In most newscasts, the only reports about things actually happening in North Texas had to do with car wrecks, fires, and exaggerated versions of weather events.
The rest was filler, stories that could have been done anywhere in the country. On NBC5, reporter Kristi Nelson stood in the aisle of a drugstore and told viewers that chewing gum may help you lose weight. It seems if you have gum in your mouth, you can’t put lots of food in there at the same time. Then they told us of a study showing that eating chocolate helps blood flow in the brain. What they didn’t say was the study was done by the Mars candy company based on people who drank a beverage made with cocoa beans and that the benefits came from a bad-tasting anti-oxidant that is processed out of the beans when they are converted into chocolate.
Then there was the Los Angeles doctor who was injecting women’s feet with botox so they could wear high heels without pain. This was the longest piece of the newscast, at more than two minutes. They failed to mention you had to get the botox injections about once a month to keep the spiked heels from hurting.
I’m not trying to be sexist here, but it seems very clear that the local news folks are gearing their broadcasts to what they think women want – and thereby insulting them. And the numbers back this up. Ed Bark, former Dallas Morning News tv critic who now follows local news on his blog (unclebarky.com), found that more women are watching local news these days, by big margins. In the November sweeps last year, for all four local stations’ 10 p.m. newscasts, in the prime advertising demographic – 25-54-year-olds – the breakdown of viewers was 60 percent women, 40 percent men.
Local tv news has always dumbed down its content, no matter which age or gender group the execs are trying to appeal to. But it now seems they are specifically dumbing down for women. That’s why we have all these bogus health alerts, news about how to make high heels less painful, and the shaved head of a woman with mental problems. As CBS11 anchor Karen Borta told us one evening last month, there are three concerns for women: “shoes, weight, and cramps.”
“All of those diet and fountain of youth stories are intentionally geared toward women,” Bark told me in an e-mail. “It’s not happenstance. NBC5 and Belo’s Channel 8 are the worst offenders in this market. If more men watched than women, I suspect we’d see more Ultimate Fighter footage and perhaps a miracle cure for jock itch. But yes, many legitimate stories undoubtedly hit the cutting- room floor to make way for the pandering to women viewers. Is it insulting to women? Oftentimes, yes.”
Maybe it’s too much to ask that local newscasts concentrate on local politics, analyses of the criminal justice system, or take-outs on big projects like Trinity River Vision or toll roads. But I would hope they might mix in a few more of those, because a lot of us out here – including plenty of women – have no interest in cellulite or problems in the nail salon business.
Even when they get a local news item, they hype it up so far that it is almost comical. NBC5’s Mike Snyder reported how a man in Grapevine had exposed himself to a woman in her apartment laundry area. Then the anchor intoned very seriously that the man “pulled down his pants and asked ‘Do you want some of this?'”
Well, no, Mike we don’t want “some of this.” Because what you’re offering is way too many stories on “shoes, weight, and cramps.” Most of us of the male persuasion just aren’t interested, and most women aren’t that stupid.