Friday, May 9, 2008

Turn off the TV and pick up a newspaper

Judd Zulgad’s column in today’s Star Tribune reassures us that WCCO TV lead sports anchor Mark Rosen will not be leaving the station any time soon. Ok. Fine. Great. Good for him, I guess.

We’ve heard a lot recently about the demise of the newspaper industry. America’s shrinking attention span, desire to get news as it happens, the emergence of many quality Internet news and analysis sites, and newspaper’s own mistakes have led to the dilemma. It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, but also inevitable that times change and adjustments need to be made. What I can’t understand is why people seem to be dismissing newspapers, but still valuing the local television sports anchor.

Anchors like Rosen, Jim Rich at Channel 9, and Randy Shaver at Channel 11 appear on our television screens each and every night telling us…nothing really. Someone writes some copy that they read off of a teleprompter while a few generic game highlights run on the screen. After the highlights, sometimes we get a clichéd sound bite from an athlete. This process repeats itself for about three or four minutes before the sports anchor sends it back to the news anchors with some sort of cheesy transition.

Sports anchors in the Twin Cities rarely do any sort of actual reporting. Analysis and unique insight into the local teams are just as rare. Compare the amount and quality of work from the local sports anchors with the local beat writers. Essentially, the beat writers do the sports anchor’s job for them, probably for significantly less pay and far less recognition. It’s reporters like Michael Russo, La Velle E. Neal III and Chip Scoggins that plug into the local teams and do a pretty good job at telling us why a team is successful or unsuccessful, break news on transactions or inside team happenings, or let us know which player recently was arrested and why.

The television anchor then takes this information, condenses it into something that can be easily read off a teleprompter, and then reports it as news. Hey, it’s a great gig if you can get it, but why people even pay any attention to the local sports anchor these days is a head scratcher. Is it because we feel we have some sort of emotional attachment to the TV anchor because we can see him? Do we feel the information is more credible when it’s coming out of the mouth of Mark Rosen because he looks like a decent guy? Do we somehow trust him more because he has a TV voice?

Also, why do all local TV sports anchors have to be such blatant homers and shills for the local teams? It can’t be that hard to at least act like an objective journalist the four minutes they’re on the air. Mercifully, Rod Simons of Channel 5, the most embarrassing member of Minnesota’s television media contingent, recently was given the axe. This “reporter” once led the traditional “Let’s Play Hockey” bit before a Wild game and was so blatant in his homerism that I’m surprised he didn’t wear a Vikings or Twins jersey on the air.

Consider this my plea to the world: If you want quality reporting, in sports, politics, news, or whatever, pick up a newspaper or find a reliable Internet news site. Only turn on the television to watch the big game live or catch up on old episodes of the Sopranos.

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