Monday, November 29, 2004

Why news as we know it is endangered

An experience yesterday while driving home on Interstate 40 though the Tennessee-North Carolina mountains brought home to me why journalism, as it is too often practiced, is becoming irrelevant.

I-40 is down to one lane in both directions because half of the road washed out during this summer's tropical storms. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, that produced a traffic backup more than 15 miles long. As I inched my way through (15 miles in 2 1/2 hours), I flipped through the radio dial. Nothing of course except mindless chatter and all music. I also could "listen" to TV -- WATE, Channel 6, on FM.

As expected, the obligatory Thansgiving traffic story led the 6 p.m. newscast. The story, however, proved to be not much more than the rewritten AAA news release I had heard so many times earlier in the day on network news, embellished with a sentence or two of glancing reference to possible traffic problems on I-40. No details, no reporting, that I could tell.

A 15-mile backup -- and one that, from what a friend who came through later told me, stretched into the early morning -- is news, pure and simple. How hard was it to call the highway patrol and find out what was happening? And there was a great story, too. In the town of Hartford, not much more than a wide spot in the road along the Pigeon River, I will bet the two gas stations did a land-office buisness of a type they've almost never seen. It should not have been hard to get a phone number and a few good quotes.

I checked the Knoxville paper's Web site this morning, too, as well as another TV station - WBIR. Don't see a thing. Guess it just wasn't news.


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