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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

All The News That The Cops Told Us About

That TV20 has decided not to renew anchor Gary Mattingly's contract apparently concerns some people, because he is African American and the second black TV20 on-air personality not to be renewed (Carla Banks is the other).

I have no clue whether this has to do with this race, talent, salary or what, but if you want to have a serious talk about TV20, let's focus on the real issue, namely how TV20 is one of the most worthless news organizations imaginable.

The nightly broadcast has devolved over the years into 15 minutes of crime news, followed by the weather, some chuckling about Gator sports, and then a happy smiley feature.

Having spent two decades in the news business, part of it covering and writing about the media industry, I know why TV20 has moved in this direction – money. Covering crime is easy and cheap, because the cops do all the reporting for you. And because TV is a visual medium, covering crime scenes helps fill the space.

Case in point – when I was working for the City of Alachua as the city clerk, the City Commission made a landmark vote one night on a proposed massive industrial development that would have changed the city from small town America into Truck Stop Capital of the South. TV20 was on the scene, so I joined a few city staffers to watch the coverage. The story followed a half dozen relatively minor crime stories, including a purse snatching in which no one was hurt.

Although resorting to such coverage might be good for the bottom lines of TV stations, it is bad for the rest of us. The hyper-attention to crime creates a false sense of insecurity and danger in our society, and studies have shown that the increase in this kind of reporting has convinced people that crime is also increasing, when it has not. Crime accounts for a quarter of TV broadcasts, but crime accounts for a small fraction of our lives.

So Mattingly is out. My guess is that whoever replaces him won't matter when it comes to what TV20 reports.

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