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TV programming has changed substantially, especially news coverage

When baby boomers were children, Chicagoland offered television viewers a narrow choice of stations that included WBBM Channel 2, WLS Channel 7, WMAQ Channel 5, and super station WGN Channel 9.

Occasionally programming on public television Channel 11 attracted substantial viewership.

It’s ironic that with a handful of options, regular programming was so competitive, that sometimes families had to work out compromises on viewing priorities. That was complicated by the fact there was usually only one TV per household.

Today with cable and satellite, there are literally thousands of options for the entertainment of viewers, and yet many lament that after surfing the dials exhaustively, there is often little or nothing worthwhile to watch, with the explosion of mindless reality television and unimaginative series programming.

The younger generation probably can’t even imagine a time when there was no way to record a program to watch at your leisure.

Every station has an “on demand” component allowing viewing at will. And not only is there a TV in every room of the house these days, but multiple mobile devices allow viewing from virtually any place on the planet.

Along with technology and the proliferation of options from an entertainment standpoint, television news has gone through a metamorphosis that most “old school” viewers perceive as giant steps backwards.

It all started with the concept of satellite news, led by CNN. This precipitated a shift for local news providers, who found themselves unable to compete in terms of national and international coverage.

In the beginning, it was a fairly innocuous divide. You still had to go to the locals to find out what was happening in your neighborhood and if you wanted to see extended coverage of events on a national or international level, you turned to cable news.

Unfortunately, it seemed to force local station News management to focus on “negative stories,” such as crime, natural or unnatural regional disasters, and local political drama. The satellite news czars stayed in their lane, dispatching reporters anywhere breaking news beckoned.

Over the past 10 years, that changed. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, et al, unashamedly confess catering to politically sensational news to lure viewers and subsequently advertisers. News content took a backseat to the concept of in-depth broad topic emphasis. So among all of the satellite newscasts, there is one portion of actual news to every 10 servings of opinion and commentary.

Decision makers aren’t bound by the importance of broad news coverage or the need for Americans to have access to fair, accurate and thorough information. Television news is in no way altruistic…it is strictly business, so don’t expect a more responsible News strategy as we enter the season of presidential politics in 2024. It will be worse.

So what can you do? Rely far less on television news, even though it is the most popular and convenient. Read newspapers and magazines, many of which are easily accessible online.

While satellite news viewing can’t be recommended, neither can the temptation to suggest turning off the news completely. We are simply better as citizens when we are better informed.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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