Where the news comes last (or at least after the weather)

The Northwest’s News Leader. First, Live, Local. Where the NewsComes First. These slogans all tout our local TV networks and theirspellbinding news coverage. If you never sampled the actualproduct, they might convince you that the Portland networkaffiliates have an undying zeal for bringing you the most pressingissues of the day.

But this myopically optimistic impression of the “news comingfirst” washes away the second you actually watch a local newsbroadcast. From the first glimpse of the forced, plasticanchorperson banter, to the last shameless plug for the show comingup next, there’s never any hint that these three-ring circuses haveanything to do with journalism. The broadcasts all follow a closelyregimented format that goes something like this:

Top Stories of the Day: These will include things likethree-alarm house fires in Southeast and how many people diedyesterday in Iraq, in that order. For a good look at the subjectivenature of the local news, compare the same stories on differentnetworks sometime. For example, earlier this year, after a noisecomplaint about a hip-hop night at Ringler’s nightclub, the copsshowed up with a black stuffed gorilla tied to their front bumper.I watched KOIN 6 play Chief Foxworth’s statement that the gorillahad been confiscated earlier from a drunk and smelled too bad to beput in the trunk, followed by several interviews with club goerswho thought it was a racist joke by the cops. Later I saw the samestory on KGW 8, except they only played the Foxworth statement andconcluded that his version was indeed what actually happened.

Politics: Political issues are limited, almost withoutexception, to the presidential campaign. No substantive analysis ofthe presidential campaign, just a breakdown of the poll numbers anda thirty-second speech excerpt by each candidate. If they reallyneed to fill airtime, they might get a sound bite from that oldestof journalistic clich�s, the Man (or Woman, or Other) On theStreet.

Weather: By far the most journalistically sound part of anylocal broadcast, complete with raw satellite data, in-depthanalysis from people who clearly know what they’re talking aboutand even some helpful visual aids. This is the area where theyreally go all-out and the networks tend to use all their unsoldlocal advertising space to run promos on their riveting stormcoverage. But let me save you the trouble of watching with a quick,accurate, six-month forecast right now: It’s going to rain. Alot.

Human Interest Pieces: Parrot in a tree in Gresham. 7-11 holdupin California. School bus beatings in Florida. The only requirementis that it must have some kind of unique visual action to hook theviewer’s interest. They’ve turned a good percentage of theirbroadcasts into a bastardized version of Fox’s “When AnimalsAttack.”

Weather: A rehash of the weather from earlier in theprogram.

Business: Short and sweet – about thirty seconds on the latestDow numbers and how many people Intel laid off this week. Theprogramming directors are pragmatic enough to realize that anyonewho might be sincerely interested in some in-depth news aboutbusiness is going to seek out a slightly more credible source.

Your Health: Atkins is good. Atkins is bad. No, Atkins is good.Whatever, we just got it off the wire.

Weather: Another look at the weather.

Entertainment: The night of the Emmys, I flipped from station tostation watching each one lead off their coverage by mentioning theshows on their own network that won. That’s the only wayentertainment news is deemed to have any local relevance: if itrelates to the parent network. Who knows how many stories on localballot measures have to be bumped from earlier in the program tolet viewers know that Oprah gave away Pontiacs to her studioaudience or that Ben Affleck will host the Saturday Night Livethirtieth anniversary show? I shudder to think.

Sports: A nostalgic and benign look back at the pre-ESPN dayswhen sportscasters talked like those shouting salesmen in used-carcommercials. Even though the Blazers usually lose, the localsportscasters never seem to lose their fanatically pumped-updelivery. I suspect they have an amphetamine IV drip underneath thenews desk at all times. At any rate, it’s sure to jolt the viewersawake after the health and business news. And after the sports,last but not least, there’s…

One Final Look at the Weather.