Tonight at 6:00, Sensationalism

Delta Winds cover 2000Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Tonight at 6:00, Sensationalism

John Azzaro

It has been an average day in my average neighborhood. The time is 6:00 pm, and I am just settling down to watch the evening news. The majority of my fellow neighbors, both down the street and across the city, view a similar broadcast.

The local news begins with the top stories of the day. First on the agenda, a major fire north of Sacramento nearly burns several houses to the ground. Circling the scene, the news helicopter films every second of the ensuing disaster. Images of residents fleeing from their homes and terrified families hurriedly placing a few valuable belongings into their vehicles are broadcast. There is a quick mention of the homes being saved and residents safely returning to face the damage. Abruptly, the first story of the day ends.

The next two segments also encompass wildfires. First of which recounts a northern Sacramento park fire that nearly burns down an entire neighborhood. Images follow of residents standing on the roofs of their homes, watering down the structures in an effort to save them from the threat the flames pose.

In another fire, over 1,000 acres are destroyed in an area north of Yolo County. Video from the station's helicopter shows the smoke and blaze from multiple vantage-points. Both stories end with a single sentence informing the viewer that there has been no injury or property damage. Over three minutes of the half-hour broadcast are dedicated to these three fires, and better than ninety percent of this time is used to show footage that indicates complete catastrophe. In each instance, only a brief mention from the news anchor informs the viewer that no disaster has actually occurred. In my opinion, this is over-dramatization at its very finest.

The next two and a half minutes of the broadcast are occupied by two murder cases. A twenty-two-year-old man who was recently released from prison after serving time for a conviction of child molestation has murdered his four-year-old son. Video of the police walking in and out of the man's apartment is shown for nearly a minute while the newscaster narrates. The footage, shot from over a hundred feet away, seems to serve no purpose whatsoever other than to provide the viewer with something other than the news anchor to look at as the heartbreaking events that occurred behind the walls of the apartment are sorrowfully narrated. Following is a fleeting shot of what appears to be the child's school picture, leaving our hearts even heavier than they were just moments before.

An update of a Sacramento area murder trial follows. Again, nearly a minute of useless file footage is broadcast with underlying narration. This time, the video is of the accused subject in court. The viewer is informed in detail of how the man in question beat a young boy to death in a public restroom. Unfortunately, in this story as in the last, the bulk of time spent on the piece is used to describe the methods of violence incorporated by these murderous individuals. In both cases, no information is directly provided from the district attorney's office or local police departments. Nor were any other public officials interviewed. At no time during the broadcast is any explanation given as to why such a large portion of our evening news is focused on these monsters.

The subject of the next two headlines is education. Unfortunately, fewer than thirty seconds are dedicated to each story. In the first, angry parents protest the Sacramento County School District, claiming that lack of quality education is the cause behind their children's poor test scores. One short piece of video is aired, showing a clip of an interview with an unknown person. The usual "fluff" footage showing what the exterior of the school building looks like follows. Again, this view of a building does not seem to have any rational relevance to the story. However, it is used rather than another parental interview or possible comments from school board members.

In a similar fashion, only a fraction of a minute is dedicated to a piece on the Stockton and Lodi school boards. A clip of students walking around the campus is shown as a news correspondent informs the viewer that there is a public vote on a bond to help with overcrowding in the Stockton/Lodi area. No additional information is provided.

Twenty seconds are allocated to inform the public of a bill whose purpose is to aid in the fight against police brutality and/or harassment of minorities. The viewer is informed that the governor vetoed the bill earlier today and the ACLU is dissatisfied with his decision. However, no reasons for the governor's decision are provided. Also, no comments from the governor himself, his staff, the police, the ACLU, or the public are dispensed, only the abrupt end of the story follows.

Next, half a minute is dedicated to a job-fair in Sacramento. For twenty-five of these seconds, we are apprized that 2,400 people will be hired from all fields. We are enlightened as to where the budget came from and why said budget did not exist last year. However, only about five seconds are allotted to advise the public of where or when the fair is. Holding a pencil and paper in hand, and writing at a feverish pace, I could not jot down but half of the information provided. Assuming the purpose of the segment was to bring people to the fair, this was very poor use of air time.

In speaking of the poor usage of air time, the next six minutes of valuable broadcast time are wasted on the following "insider stories."

An "in-depth" story focusing on how Cal-Trans painted crooked yellow lines on the freeway (versus the straight type that most drivers are used to) was the premier piece. Near the end of this story, Cal-Trans officials defended their work saying, "These were temporary lines and no tax-payer money was wasted." The point of the story seemed to be that it was a humorous mistake on the part of Cal-Trans.

Story number two focused on a Sacramento area resident with a severely discombobulated backyard. This man was evicted for not paying his mortgage. The aim of the story was that his neighbors were "happy to see him go" as one resident put it. The city was expected to clean up the debris in the coming weeks.

Now, after natural disaster, homicide, and the crumbling education system is brought to our attention, it is time for the weather and sports, occupying around seven minutes total broadcast time before the final story of the evening is aired, taking no longer than a mere fifteen seconds to complete. A charity auction event that would benefit a housing project in Memphis, Tennessee, was the focus of this piece.

There is something wrong with the so-called broadcast news media. Why is so little time dedicated to stories that help the community? Why didn't the job-fair, school district, and charity events occupy the beginning moments of the broadcast? Local media has a responsibility to report news in the community. While it is true that crime and forest fires have significant effects on people, school district bills, job-fairs, and charity events have the power to affect just as profoundly. A bill vetoed by the governor influences tens of millions, yet the exciting video of police walking in and out of the house of a lunatic somehow receives more air time. This is an injustice to both the viewer and the public at large. Society is painted as falling apart at the seams. Violence and disaster dominate the broadcast while real community news that affects all of us closer to home is set on the back burner. We are all injured by this lack of balance. We walk away from the day's events with intimate knowledge of murders, abuse, and madness, but are left lacking the informative, intelligent news that keeps us all in touch with our government and our community.