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(Reno, NV)
Thursday, January 17, 2008

I really dislike TV news.  In my opinion, cable news has way too much hot air, and local news is so focused on the two journalistic clichés “If it bleeds, it leads” and “Blood, guts and gore” that it almost always chooses sensationalism over substantive reporting.

But here I am, on my first night in Reno to cover the Nevada caucuses, channel-surfing from local newscast to local newscast at 11pm.  (See what happens when the station won’t reimburse any gambling losses?)

Either I’ve gone mad, or I’m a bigger political junkie than NPR’s Ken Rudin.  Most likely, both.

But there are two reasons why I’m interested in the local news tonight:

1) The coverage.  It’s so refreshing to see local TV newscasts lead their newscast with something that doesn’t include any blood, guts or gore (though yet another cliché, “Politics is a blood sport,” comes to mind right now).  Two of the three Reno stations I came across led with the election – and took the story on from several different angles.  The other led with a crime story, showing that old habits die hard.  The coverage definitely wasn’t NPR-quality, but hey, starting with something other than the shoot-em-up down at the OK Corral is a start!

Random tangent: Speaking of old habits that die hard, even election coverage on local TV newscasts gets absurd pretty fast.  One station actually polled beer drinkers on which presidential candidate they support.  How were the ballots awarded?  One vote per beer.  The winners: Barack Obama (by a huge margin) and Ron Paul (more narrowly), showing that – this just in, folks! – young people drink beer!

2) The commercials.  I’ve found myself actually paying attention during commercial breaks for the only time besides the Super Bowl.  (Side note: On behalf of all of the world’s underdogs, would the Patriots PLEASE lose a game?)  In a single commercial break, I caught commercials for both Obama and Clinton.  A later break found a union ad promoting Clinton.  I even caught an Obama spot on ESPN as I continued my channel surfing.  It’s interesting to catch the campaigns’ strategies – plus you get to see which outside groups are lining up behind each candidate.

Another random tangent – and be warned: this is inside baseball (but isn’t that what blogs are for?): Considering how much those political advertising gurus get paid, you have to wonder about their competence.  You know that whole “I’m Candidate X, and I approve this message” thing that federal law now requires at the end of every campaign ad?  More often than not, there’s absolutely no production value there.  So you end up with an incredibly inspiring ad for 28 seconds, followed by a completely uninspiring, rushed candidate voiceover blurting out his or her approval in a monotone – completely sapping any momentum the ad built up in the first place!

But still, at least Nevada gets this “entertainment.”  Which brings us to the moral of this story: If you’re into presidential politics, California can get pretty boring – because we hardly ever matter.  That’s why the next few weeks will be so interesting.  For the first time in my (admittedly short) political memory, the Golden State will have a say in a presidential race – two, in fact.  Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will have settled on a nominee by the time we vote on February 5th, also known as Super-Duper-Tsunami-insert-other-clichéd-hyperbolic-term-here Tuesday.  So candidates will actually have to (gasp) pay attention to us!

So enjoy these next few weeks, when the eyes of the candidates, media and all those national pundits turn to California.  And don’t complain if you come across a political ad or two (that doesn’t involve term limits or Indian casinos).  After all, it might be a while til we get this kind of attention again.