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Then and Now: Local Reality TV

This is part of a series of posts featuring earlier content from the Vital Integrities Blog along with updated information and opinions.

Here's an excerpt from a March 2006 post:
Weather forecasting, once an easy way to fill five minutes on a local news broadcast, is transforming the six o'clock news into reality TV. Network affiliates, which used to compete to be their area's preferred "news station," now market themselves as "weather stations." Meteorologists don't transmit from a studio anymore; they come to us "live from the weather center," conjuring up images of scientists sequestered away, scouring weather maps with military precision. And they no longer rely on simple radar; they now use Doppler. But not just your run-of-the-mill Doppler; it's now Super-Digital-Pinpoint-Triple-Bigfoot-Skytrak-Accu-Doppler. Unfortunately, the "reality" is forecasters still get it wrong at least 20 percent of the time.

Here's why this bothers me so much. I can accept that even the best forecasters will be wrong one out of five times. But TV stations are using weather to generate ratings, and ratings come from sensational stories. Meteorologists are "creating news" with their dire forecasts and reporting their grim predictions as fact. And, in today litigious society, we force people to react to those reports to avoid lawsuits if they don't. For instance, school systems must respond to heavy snow forecasts by keeping their buses off the roads, so that means closing schools. Local governments must deploy snowplows to await the storm on highway roadsides; otherwise, we won't blame the storm for traffic accidents, we'll blame the government for not being ready. News shows are pumping up their ratings at our financial expense.
Amid the current recession, local television news shows have added economic reporting to their repertoire. And like their exaggerated weather prophesies, their forecasts for the economy are overly ominous. While we can't blame the media for creating our economic mess, we can fault television news for fostering a sense of doom and gloom. It's one thing for newscasters to report the latest unemployment figures or announce an area plant closing. But it's journalistically irresponsible to falsely state that we're in the worst economic period ever (does anyone else remember the double-digit mortgage rates of the 80s?), or to predict that a recovery is years away. Is it any surprise that consumers have stopped spending money?

Like weather forecasters who continuously miss the mark, TV journalists who pretend to be economic experts will lose credibility with their viewers. In the meantime, we're better off weathering this economic storm without them.

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