OLMSTED FALLS, Ohio – Every day in television-area homes in Cleveland, a phone call to someone on the other end probably starts with something like, “Did you watch this morning? I can’t believe how they each found an outfit in that color! I can’t wait to see what they’ll be wearing tomorrow.”
For several years, a local television morning news program has asked its anchors to dress in the same colors every day. Based on the consistently high ratings of the show, sync tones have certainly increased its popularity. It seems likely that a significant portion of the audience will turn on this station primarily to watch the set of clothes rather than absorb news content.
I understand how this tradition can drive viewers to tune in. However, I can’t help but discern the gimmick, a gimmick that doesn’t meet the journalistic standards set by high-profile television news networks. In this case, this ploy can become a distraction, harming the actual transmission (and importance) of the news being reported.
Frankly, I find it hard to take the station’s newscasts seriously.
To be fair, other TV networks add various annoyances during their newscasts to attract viewers. Here are just a few: the overly dramatic theme music at the start and during the news; the predictable and often hyperbolic appearance of “BREAKING NEWS” on our screens; and the hiring of surprisingly attractive journalists, in large part perhaps for this reason. (Fortunately, in this market at least, good looks and good journalism aren’t at odds, mostly.)
Earlier I referred to “highly regarded television news networks”. The TV channel that comes to mind the most is BBC World News. Anyone who followed the recent events surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth and the subsequent funeral and engagement services on the BBC will attest to its brilliant coverage from start to finish. The anchors and reporters, along with the film crews, produced a fascinating, in-depth and impressive display of journalistic integrity and expertise. Teleprompters and background music rarely found a role in the production. Articulate and eloquent reporting was the norm. What those who offered the commentary and analysis wore was of no importance, because the content of their words resonated so strongly.
To suggest that a local Cleveland newscast can compete on the same level as BBC World News would be absurd for reasons I need not enumerate; proposing, on the other hand, that our local broadcasters apply some of the journalistic features of the BBC would not be.
I have watched BBC World News for a while, enjoying how the news is presented front and centre. Broadcasters draw little attention to themselves while speaking their words soberly and objectively. Unlike here, anchors and reporters rarely talk to each other. Humor and soft laughter occur when needed, and laughs are non-existent. Personal theater belongs on a stage, not a broadcast studio. The calculating insertion of political agendas that we associate with several of our national news broadcasts, thankfully, is not shown.
For some, the effect may seem anachronistic and boring. To me, refreshing. Refreshing in the sense that local (and national) newscasts don’t have to resign themselves to the trivial elements and tired structure currently in place. Surely, it will be difficult to uproot the expectations of the audience and offer a different view of how news can be communicated. Habits are not easily broken. But a format modeled on BBC World News, even at a local level, could inspire potential viewers to check it out. Replicating these broadcasting qualities of the BBC could remove widespread disdain and indifference for television news while providing a more vibrant understanding of news events.
I challenge anyone who hasn’t visited BBC World News to make the effort. You won’t be disappointed. A clear and responsible approach to reporting has never been more urgent. Nor does it have the need to build a more informed and educated public.
Mark Hodermarsky, a retired St. Ignatius High School teacher, is the author of eight books. On the horizon is a ninth, “Baseball in Cleveland, 1865-1900: A Treasured Legacy,” to be published by Cleveland Landmarks Press.
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