As a kid, my parents would sometimes take my brothers and me to a restaurant called Sir George’s Smorgasbord. Sir George’s was one of those all-you-can-eat places, and in the 1960’s it cost you a mere $1.69 a plate! I don’t remember the “royal buffet” being so kid-friendly (except for the fried dough balls for dessert) but that didn’t matter so much. The idea you could assemble your own dinner from dozens of selections was a dream compared to some of mom’s mandated meals.
Sir George’s closed its doors in the late 1970’s, but I thought about the place the other night. For years my wife and I used to watch a half-hour of local news on television – our before-bed catch-up on the happenings of the day. I was always impressed with how many stories the newscasters crammed into thirty minutes; an almost breathless smorgasbord of headlines and reports. Alas, the real-time information of mobile devices removed much of the appeal of the late-night news (except the weather – always an important topic here in Colorado). But maybe the loss of appeal should be blamed on something else. Something more troubling.
With the pandemic and protests of late, my wife and I tune into the news again. We seek an encouraging stat or bit of research we’ve missed, or we yearn for a better angle on the justification of our country’s continuing unrest. Whatever the reason, we find we’re tuning out the news almost as fast. What used to be a buffet of international, national, and local news has changed into something else entirely: essentially a waste of our time.
I’m guessing news broadcasts look about the same in every American locale right now. The lead story is an incident-based piece on racial injustice (i.e. Seattle’s CHOP), followed by something similar at the local level (i.e. a peaceful protest). These stories are followed by a statistical update on COVID-19 (global, national, local), which leads to the latest state/city mandates and recommendations.
Click the stopwatch. Fifteen minutes have already been consumed by protests and pandemic, leaving the other fifteen minutes for weather, sports, and everything else a viewer “needs to know”. Actually, make that ten minutes. Our news takes a break halfway through for commercials, then again just before wrapping things up. Weather is only newsworthy if you live in a place where it changes daily. Sports isn’t newsworthy at all, at least not right now.
You see where I’m going with this. The late-night news is simply not “news” anymore. Without taking anything away from the seriousness of the pandemic and the issues behind the myriad protests, neither topic is end-of-day compelling when you’ve already consumed a healthy dose of both from your phone and newsfeed. You seek something else entirely late at night, at least to avoid EGO (eyes glazing over). You seek something newsworthy.
The news lineup won’t change, of course. Networks broadcast what they think you want to see and hear. Or more accurately, they broadcast what they want you to see and hear. Daily pandemic coverage is designed to elevate fear and maybe drive safer practices. Daily protest coverage is designed to elevate the significance of the issues and maybe drive actual change. But sorry; these topics are not the most newsworthy day-in and day-out. They’re not “breaking news”. Here’s breaking news: the other day we had a large brush fire just to the north of us, threatening our very homes and lives. By my stopwatch, the news got to that story seventeen minutes after the hour. Should’ve been the lead.
If the networks retitle these broadcasts something like “Pandemic and Protests Daily” at least I know what to expect. I could set my DVR to record the show once a week and that’d be all the tuning-in I’d need. Kind of like daytime soaps, where you can skip a whole week and then watch the next Monday’s episode to get caught up on all you missed.
Mark my words, the nightly news will soon lumber off like the dinosaurs, never to be seen again. You might ask yourself: will its demise be attributed to the real-time pings of your mobile phone, or because the networks didn’t choose to acknowledge the vast buffet of topics right in front of them?
I say bring back Sir George’s.