“Picking your nose . . . can kill you.” The admonition came from a doctor. I knew he was a doctor because he was wearing blue scrubs and he wagged a latex-swaddled index finger at the television camera. It may have scared his studio audience, but I had to laugh.
We’ve been mining nose nuggets since we climbed out of the trees and learned the “Pull My Finger” trick (which, by the way is still pretty damned funny). So how on earth could scratching my brain through my nostril possibly result in anything but entertaining the person in the car next to me at the stoplight?
According to the well-coiffed TV doc, there’s an infinitesimally small chance you’ve got this exceedingly rare bacteria under your fingernail. If, while rooting around your nasal passages your unmanicured claw scratches the lining of your nose AND you’ve been handling lion-maned marmoset dung, that exceedingly rare bacteria MIGHT find it’s way into your bloodstream, infect your brain, cause your to tongue to swell, hair to grow from your ears, and blood to issue forth from your eye sockets resulting in a slow and ugly death.
It’s all so ludicrous. But it made me stop and watch.
That, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with TV news.
Not so long ago, Brave Prince Newsboy reigned supreme over Podunkville. He and his Eyewitness Warriors delivered a steady diet of importance to the citizenry much to the dismay of other two television stations in town.
One day, a Carpetbagger with a bunch of numbers in his carpeted bag visited a dejected Beancounter at the puniest of the three stations in Podunkville. If there’s one thing beancounters understand, it’s numbers. Now, the Carpetbagger had what he called research to back up his numbers. Seems #3 had been doing it all wrong. People didn’t want news, sports and weather. The good people of Podunkville wanted a television station that was on their side. And blondes.
So, the Beancounter ditched the old guy who knew where all the bodies were buried in the courthouse and down at city hall, and hired a buxom blonde with a motherly voice who could empathize with the guy who’s ditch weeds hadn’t been cut in two months. The Beancounter paid the Carpetbagger handsomely for his magic, and the journalists inside the station shrugged and accepted it.
When the Suits at the medium-sized station heard of the Carpetbagger’s magic numbers, they went in search of someone with magic numbers as well. Carpetbagger #2 broke the news to the Suits. “It is true, the People of Podunkville do not want news, sports, and weather. They want weather.” So the Suits fired the reporter who knew the police department inside out and could translate politician-speak into something resembling English and hired in his place three extra meteorologists to track every movement of the white puffy clouds over Podunkville. The Suits paid the Carpetbagger handsomely for his magic, and the journalists left at the station shrugged and went along with the plan.
When Brave Prince Newsboy heard of the magic research numbers, even though he had nothing to fear from the Beancounter or the Suits, he went off in search of magic numbers of his own. Carpetbagger #3 was only too happy to tell Brave Prince Newsboy what he wanted to hear. “You and your Eyewitness Warriors are past your prime. It is no longer good enough to be fast, accurate, and up-to-the-minute. You must scare people into watching your newscast with things that can kill them or take their money. The people of Podunkville want stories that benefit them. They must be able to take away something useful from each story.”
So Brave Prince Newsboy issued forth an edict. No longer would his Warriors report the events of the day. They would now tell the people of Podunkville of evil scam artists and tell them not to give their credit card and banking information out over the phone. The Warriors would scour the metro for dishonest used car salesmen and demand proper service. They would root out the Booger of Death and show people alternatives to the god-given appendage they had used for so long to eradicate him themselves.
For this, Brave Prince Newsboy paid Carpetbgger #3 handsomely. The journalists dutifully carried out the new orders. And the People of Podunkville stopped watching this tripe and went in search of other options on the internet.
The solution to the ratings game is simple. Report what is important in a way that touches people where they live. We don’t need the Carpetbagger’s gimmicks if we tell people’s stories.