Thursday, February 15, 2007

411, What's Your Emergency?

I watched the end of some episode of a badly-plotted CBS lawyer show this evening, riveted to the television by the entrancing ADD of a habitual daydreamer. Let's revisit that moment for a better understanding of the following communal faux pas...

After the blessed credits begin to roll, we, the viewers, are launched onto the highspeed causeway of 11:00 local news. Today's topic? Peanut butter. That's right, sports fans. Beloved Peter Pan Peanut Butter jars are being recalled by the hundreds. Captain Hook and Mr. Smee put salmonella in all the batches marked 2011 at the beginning of the serial number. But, what's this?! Not all of the grocers are in the know! The IGA in Tazwell didn't receive a notice in their morning post. Consumers are at risk! Thankfully, the news team went undercover, complete with hidden cameras, to unearth this cage-rattling conspiracy. The public is safe once more. WVLT reporters read Lyle, Lyle Crocodile to Captain Hook and did all the voices. Luckily, he is a coward when it comes to crocodiles, and he took his salmonella-laden peanut butter scam and fled to the hills. And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

I turned off the boob tube in disgust, and marveled aloud (aloud enough to make Kat look up from her Nicholas Sparks book) at the failure of local news to actually report anything worth discovering in the first place. Why is it that Knox County is now internationally famous for clandestine county politics, and no one bothers to present the unabashed facts for the viewer's jurisprudence? Why is it that Mark Saroff cannot be hunted down by someone with a microphone and asked about the entire history of the McClung Warehouse scandal where he folded his cards at the table with KCDC and the City Planning Comission? Where are the telltale stories about why Knoxville has distinct neighborhoods? Why are people in Farragut-borne Cadillacs fearful to hear the lullaby of Jackson Street's brick-paved descent from the viaduct under their tires? What are the real murder and other violent crime statistics from the Old City and Mechanicsville? How do they stack up against South Knoxville or Powell or Halls? Why is mile after mile of land stripped of all natural resources to be replaced with nearly identical homes and pathetic saplings that will only grow twenty feet into perfectly sculpted Bradford Pears? How are the plans for a central bus depot coming? What about an intercity rail transit system?

These are the issues which concern people, and yet our local news stations "are committed to bringing us the very latest" in horrors that are too late for concern and advice which is alarmist at best and nonsensical at worst. A convenience store was robbed by a black man in Seymour - white folks, look over your shoulder while at the gas pump. A man broke his leg slipping on some ice in Tyson Park - better keep the walking about to a minimum in these icy times. A woman three counties away was brutally murdered - hold your loved ones close and share some gossip at the water cooler tomorrow. These are the types of stories (with their convenient translations into Consumerese) that come at one minute intervals across the melodramatic medium of local news. And don't even start on the meteorologists and the snow forecasts. Ithaca, NY laughs at your fear of inches on the roads.

What happened to real news that dealt with actual issues and intelligently questioned the methods and means of the local society (and did it all with an eye for ethics)? Is there a station manager that will stake a reputation and a career on getting to the truth? Is there a weatherman willing to say, "Your guess is as good as mine"? Is there a reporter that isn't the modicum of perfect hair? These are questions we'll answer on our special report, tonight at seven.

Local News Stations

-WATE, Channel 6

-WVLT, Channel 8

-WBIR, Channel 10

...and now the news.


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