by Wendy Vapors, 12/17/99
DC: One cause often cited for the pervasive climate of fear today
is the effect of TV news. Does the news, and it's focus on the violent and dramatic
aspects of our culture, tend to promote fear?
We asked Wendy Vapors to find out.
(sfx: crowd hubub, down to one person talking, occasional laugh)
Wendy: I'm here in the "news huddle" at WMWM TV, where decisions are
made about what will appear on the news tonight.
The news director, Bill Dittup, and his staff, in the interests of openness and
public education, have generously agreed to let us broadcast their deliberations,
live. Unrehearsed. Unedited. Unrestrained or restricted in any way. Thanks, Bill,
for letting us in.
Bill: Happy to, Wendy. We want the public to understand ... there's lots of give-and-take.
We don't necessarily know where this is going. We're not into posturing. Ratings
don't enter into it ... we certainly aren't interested in gratuitous violence,
we're not going to pander in any way, but we DO think and talk about what our
audience wants to see.
Wendy: OK. Go ahead, and I'll be a "fly on the wall."
Bill: Careful or you'll get swatted! (laugh) Just kidding.
OK. ... it seems to me then that we're down to three possibilities for the lead.
There's the mayhem and carnage thing we've been following, of course. Al, where
are we on that?
Al: Neighbors and friends have been interviewed. There was the half hour special
last night. Extensive re-cap through the day today. We'll get the tape of the
911 call this afternoon, and the police investigation should be leaking information
by this evening. It's got momentum. Even a "nothing happening in this story"
story would be a good story for us to lead with.
Bill: Then we've got the larceny and cheating scandal.
Mary: (off mic) Is that the "home invasion" story?
Bill: No, Mary. It's the "swindling seniors out of their pension checks"
story. The "home invasion" story we've decided to highlight in the "Trendsetters"
feature? Is that right, Susan?
Susan: Home invasion as a "lifestyle" choice. Once you've invaded someone's
house, how do you work the hostages into your day-to-day routine? Do they get
their own room? Put them in the basement? What about gags, both the in-the-mouth
kind and the tension breaking kind. Do you use them, and how much? When do you
change a gag? Those kinds of things.
Al: And what's the third?
Bill: It's Kermit's feature on the 15 year old who does good deeds for free in
her neighborhood, and saved an old man's life with mouth to mouth.
Kermit: (off mic) Brought him back to life! It's inspirational! Awesome!
(sfx: group hubub)
Al: Let's go with the mayhem, Bill. Clear choice. Everyone else will do it.
Kermit: I think my resuscitation story is pretty good!
(sfx: group hubub)
Al: Mayhem is more compelling.
Mary: Everybody's still talking about the mayhem story.
Kermit: This is better! It's got human interest and drama and it's uplifting.
(sfx: group disappointment, pooh poohing the idea)
Bill: Just a minute. Give Kermit a chance. Maybe his story could satisfy everybody!
Tell us more. Why did the guy NEED to be resuscitated at all? Is there a part
of the story we don't know?
Al: If she hit him with something first ... that would change my mind.
You know ... knocked him out and then brought him back?
Mary: It could be about impulsive, non thinking violence by teens.
"The All American girl ... what went wrong?"
Bill: But DID she hit him? Or was there a weapon involved? Cause how she GOT that
weapon would be the real story.
Mary: With team coverage of the clue less parents and kids run amok!
Kermit: There was no weapon! The guy choked on a sandwich!
Mary: (disappointed) He choked on a sandwich?
Al: What ... did she ram the sandwich down his throat, or something?
Kermit: No, no, no! It was a fast food place. She's a customer, he's a customer.
She sees the guy in trouble, and this 15 year old girl saves him. It's a FEEL
Bill: You want us to lead with a feel good story?
Al: It's not a grabber, Bill. Unless ... hey, is there a chance that while she
was saving his life, he reached up and put his hands on her in a way that could
be interpreted as a ...
Kermit: NO! Nothing like that! Everybody in my story is a hero! Everybody.
Al: We'd better lead with the mayhem, Bill. It's stark, it's true, it's happening.
Bill: Doesn't anybody want to make a case for larceny?
Mary: (meekly) I'm for larceny.
Kermit: I don't want to be a pest, but ...
(sfx: hubub up, exasperated)
... MY story is VERY real. I'll bet for every kid who commits a crime, there are
TEN like this who are doing good things and helping people.
This is reality programming! Let's take the chance!
Group: Naaaaaaaah. Nope. I don't think so.
(sfx: more hubub)
Wendy: (vo) And so ... the decision being made at ONE TV station for tonight is
to lead with violence, but as you can hear, the many alternatives are up for vigorous
debate by these dedicated guardians of our freedom of speech.
Bill: (off mic) How'd we do, Wendy?
Wendy: (distracted) Just fine, thanks.
(annc) But can these sentinels of the public mood ...
Al: (off mic) Can we do it again?
Bill: It needs more conflict. Tension.
Al: I could get more dramatic when I do my re-cap of the mayhem!
Wendy: (nervous laugh) With their personal and professional drive to please their
audience, can these icons of our nation's airwaves hold their own against the
culture's voracious appetite for provocative violence? Time will tell.
Bill: How about if Al and I start wrestling at the point where we're talking about
the story being a "grabber."
Al: I LIKE that. Great visuals. It'll animate the story!
Wendy: I TOLD you guys we were on LIVE.
Al and Bill: Oh.
Al: You big bag of wind!
Bill: First amendment sissy!
(sfx: a fight breaks out)
Wendy: At the story meeting for this evening's WMWM tv news, I'm Wendy Vapors,
and I'm reporting.
Dale Connelly Reporting Home