Pop Quiz - what happened to actual news?
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 26, 2015


So there I was last weekend, watching Sunday morning television, attaining a new level of annoyance with the kind of media that assumes its audience has the attention span of goldfish.

I don’t recall when it began, the assumption during newscasts and political talking-head shows that I couldn’t just watch one event or follow one conversation, but needed more information scrolling across the bottom of the screen. For years it was only winter school closings there, which was fine, and then the stock market, and the weather, and now they’ve added promos for coming items on the news while I’m watching this one. One fourth of the screen is filled with things to distract me from the reason I’m watching it!

With talking heads, it used to be an interviewer and an interviewee; lately management seems to assume that just listening to a conversation will bore me at my kindergarten brain level, so it splits the screen between the interviewee and some dramatic video that may or may not have something to do with the interview.

Some of the radio news moves so quickly that before one has heard and registered the news item, the script is on to the next one with hardly a comma between them, and then on to the next. Things are so tightly scheduled that they may suddenly, without warning, interrupt a news item or interview with a commercial; more incredibly, business-model-wise, they will interrupt a paid commercial with the next news item!

So, I was watching WCVB’s Sunday morning “On the Record,” which had an interesting interview with Treasurer Deborah Goldberg about the state pension liabilities. Host Ed Hardy asked her what she thought of the idea of hiring a consultant to make sure taxpayers won’t be left holding the bag. Goldberg looked puzzled and asked “left holding the bag on?” Hardy replied: “The Olympics!”

Was someone talking about the Olympics? No, Harding had just moved on to the next subject in his own head, without notifying Goldberg or the audience. It was funny/bizarre — maybe more so because it had followed a typical incident on “This Week,” where Martha Raditz was filling in as host.

I first met her when she was local reporter Martha Bradley; she has become a very serious journalist who can be seen covering some of the most dangerous parts of the globe. Last Sunday, she interviewed another ABC reporter in Yemen, from which the last American troop had just been withdrawn, leaving an extremely dangerous failed state.

This terrible situation, along with potential Iranian nuclear weapons, was being discussed by her panel when, expecting a commercial break, she introduced the weekly panel quiz. During the commercial, the normally dignified panel members have to write their secret answer on a chalkboard, for flashing when the show returns. Apparently Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were visiting Washington, D.C., last week so the quiz question was “The first time Prince Charles visited Washington, President Nixon tried to fix him up with whom?”

In case you don’t know, if was Nixon’s daughter, Tricia. Then the conversation turned to Hillary’s emails, which may be about to deep-six her presidential campaign.

Seriously. Is it possible that people like me won’t watch unless we are amused by an irrelevant quiz in the middle of it? On the Record also has a “pop quiz” in the middle of its interview show every Sunday: serious guests ranging from governors to congressmen to mayors must participate, even though the questions often have nothing to do with why they are there.

Radio used to have quizzes for listener participation, which was OK when we had to actually know the answer and call in with it before anyone else did. Now we don’t have to know anything; the winner is the listener who can find the answer first on his Internet device. What’s the point?

OK, so I sometimes know the answer without looking; that’s kind of fun. I don’t know how to text it to the show, though, so I never win a prize. Must admit that today I didn’t know where Meg Ryan was born.

Then there’s the “if it bleeds it leads” syndrome. If we tune in to the news to find out what’s going on nearby, we will hear about murder, rape, family-destroying fires in our local area; of course there will also be pleasant stories about pets, rescues and other good deeds as well. But why do I need to hear about the murders, rapes, and family-destroying fires in faraway states?

I understand we need to know about the war, famine, and weather-related destruction happening across the world, just to keep us informed about geopolitical issues that could affect America’s foreign policy. But sometimes I ask myself, what would life be like if I turned off the television and radio, and just read this newspaper — learning what I need at my own pace, without the moving visual drama?

Am I the only one who feels this way, like dropping out, asking the world to stop so I can get off, or at least moving to a cabin (with indoor plumbing) in the woods?

Of course my cabin must have access to the Internet so I can send in my columns about living a simple, deliberate life.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665