This is a simple one: Don’t watch local television news.
Maybe the weather if you really must, but there are much better ways to get weather without having to listen to local news. (see the section on computers)
Last year I went to meet Ray Bradbury and listen to him speak. He’s a truly brilliant man, but one thing he said really startled and confused me. He said: Don’t watch local news.
And I thought, what could he possibly mean by that?
He meant just what he said. And so do I.
He explained, and I listened, and then I did a little experiment, which I repeated recently before preparing to talk to you about it in this book. Here are the results, which I have fudged (but only slightly) to protect myself from slander lawsuits:
One day this past summer, these are some of the things that happened in Los Angeles County (I don’t live in it but I get their television stations):
- The L.A. City Council voted to re-apportion water fees in a way that would lower the rates for well-off people on the west side, while raising them for poor people in the inner city.
- The Federal reserve announced a policy change that had the potential to devastate the newly re-emerging housing industry in southern California by compromising any changes that might be enacted by the presidential administration following the 1996 elections.
- Superior court judges were given the right to ignore the three-strikes sentencing provisions of Proposition 182.
And these were the three lead-off stories on local station’s five o’clock news:
- Three decomposing bodies were found in a pickup truck outside a church in Hawthorne.
- A reporter transmitting live from the courthouse (why, I have no idea, since the courthouse doesn’t move and he wasn’t interviewing anybody) told us breathlessly that nothing new had transpired today in the OJ Simpson civil case.
- Police in North Hollywood pursued a vehicle allegedly driven by a convenience store bandit for eight miles until the driver crashed into a light pole. (This story was accompanied by six minutes of helicopter footage narrated in detail by the anchor, who essentially told you what you were seeing on the screen, based on what he was seeing on the screen, which was the same as what youwere seeing on the screen.)
The next four stories were all about shootings around town.
Now I ask you, honestly: Which set of stories was more important for an informed citizenry to be made aware of?
I’m certainly not one to minimize the tragedy of people getting shot, chased or bludgeoned. And it’s good for people to know that it can be dangerous out there.
And you also need to know the statistics of how many shootings occur in any given district of your city or town over some period of time, what the typical modus operandus is, and other information to help you keep out of trouble and make informed decision when it comes time to vote for people who promise to do something about it.
What’s not important is for you to be instantly informed of all the details of every crime that occurred in the last twenty four hours because, harsh as this may sound, they’re not important except to the police and the direct participants in the incident. Hearing about them doesn’t make you a better citizen, or a better person, or a better anything.
It does you no good
I thought local news was bad in L.A., but then I spent some time in Miami.
Wow! You’d have thought that nothing else went on in Miami but murders.
Same is true of New York. And Chicago.
I discovered that what local news really is, is a crime report. At least when they’re not spending twenty minutes of your time talking about some cute furry creature that was rescued from a tree by a combined force of eight engine companies.
I also discovered that the highest-paid anchors are those who can make every two-bit, routine car chase sound like the outbreak of World War III, only worse. They have to. Most of the things that happen on the local level are boring as hell, even if they’re important, and people don’t watch boring television shows. As the news managers say, if it bleeds, it leads.
For a while, I thought all was redeemed by CNN Headline news. This was a great innovation. Any time of the day or night, anywhere in the country, I could turn it on and pretty much get what I needed to know in about a half hour.
Then, a few months ago, I was watching Headline News and almost fell over. They had instituted a new innovation: Every half hour, they interrupted their own impeccable reporting to bring me five minutes of news from a local station in L.A.! I bet they’re still smoking cigars and drinking champagne at Turner Broadcasting headquarters over that brilliant idea.
Don’t they realize that it defeats the whole purpose of having Headline News in the first place? The whole purpose is to let you get the news without forcing you to watch a local news station.
It’s 7:25 am at this very moment and I’m watching one of these local spots while writing this. Here are the stories:
- A robbery suspect was gunned down in Downey last night.
- A teenager is in the hospital after being shot during a gang fight.
- The judge in the OJ Simpson civil case has delayed proceedings this morning while he handles some matters from another case.
- Another robbery suspect is in stable condition after running into a stone fence during a high speed chase
Watch your local news carefully the next few nights. Pretend you’re from the planet Zorp observing life on Earth.
My bet is that you will suddenly discover that you have a whole extra hour in a day you thought was already filled to bursting.
So read the newspaper. And hang out with your kids.
Thanks, Ray. You changed my life.