Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why TV news makes me sick

How do you keep up on the news? If you’re a millennial, the answer is probably an online website or social media feed. If you’re a baby boomer, you might read the morning paper over a cup of coffee, although that paper may be delivered electronically to your tablet.

When it comes to evening newscasts, audience erosion has been ongoing. While polls and surveys try to determine the cause, they're looking in the wrong places. I don't believe it's about the number of interviews, live reports, or story length.

I’ve been a steadfast viewer of national TV news, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep on watching. The problem is this: TV news makes me feel sick, and it doesn’t matter which network I’m watching.

It goes beyond the violence and vindictiveness and treachery of politics and world events. It’s what happens between news segments that is turning me off. Commercials are the easy fall guy for losing viewers, but it’s more the type of ad that plays during the dinner hour.

The other night I counted 17 commercials and three network promos in one half-hour program, with 10 of those ads targeted to medical maladies, and most of those related to senior citizens.

The reason I may abandon Lester Holt, Scott Pelley, David Muir, and other evening anchors is the fatigue factor of commercial breaks, most of which echo the refrain, “Ask your doctor whether X is right for you.”

Even worse than hearing the gritty details of toenail fungus or gas bloating during dinner is seeing the disturbing animations. And what about all those wistful, unsatisfied women lounging about, hoping their men will pop a little pill to provide up to four hours of pleasure.

I always wonder what households with little children do, as kids are quick to pick up on and ask about things you wish they hadn’t overheard. “Mommy, what is that lady talking about? Are you experiencing vaginal pain during intercourse due to menopause?”

It’s not a matter of being squeamish about discussing medical issues. It’s more a matter of assumption. It seems advertisers assume only older, infirm people watch the news. That’s when they gang up ads for joint pain, erectile dysfunction, cancer treatments, COPD, depression, nutritional supplements, denture adhesive, heartburn, arthritis, menopause, dry eye, dry mouth, and so on.

Nearly every commercial includes a long list of potential side effects that must be mentioned, usually at top speed, in the last few seconds of air time. Hearing all that could possibly go wrong is enough to convince me the “cure” could easily be worse than the disease.

I would feel a whole lot better, and TV news might benefit too, if there were healthier commercial breaks.

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