Murphy’s Law – Watching local news: an exercise in futility

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

Any day now, local news stations will start running commercials touting their coverage of the earthquake and hurricane that recently hit the East Coast. If any of these stations are looking for a catchy new tagline to run at the end of these promos, I have a suggestion: “When news breaks, we will continue to talk about it well past the point where there’s anything worth saying.”

On most days, I would rather have one of those creepy eels from Wrath of Khan shoved in my ear than watch TV news. In general, I rely on the Internet to give me all the pertinent information (and cat videos) I need. TV news is simply something I enjoy watching Jon Stewart mock.

However, when something big happens like a natural disaster, I do find myself tuning in to hear the latest.

And I always instantly regret it.

When the earthquake hit, I was obviously fascinated. Living on the East Coast, you don’t exactly expect the ground to randomly start shaking in the middle of the day. The main things I wanted to find out when I put on the television was how powerful the ‘quake was and how far it reached. I did manage to find those two things out, but after they mentioned that info, the news anchors quickly ran out of material.

The “newscast” quickly degraded into the anchors telling their own personal stories of how they were in the studio and things started shaking. It turns out personal earthquake stories are really boring. I mean, granted, if it was a major quake and you ended up saving a bunch of puppies from the rubble or discovering an underground race of mole people who were forced to surface because of it, then by all means I want to hear that story.

But for the East Coast earthquake, all of the stories went something like this: “So there I was, just sitting there performing some mundane task when all of the sudden the ground started shaking. Then it wasn’t shaking anymore. It was crazy.”Lather. Rinse. Repeat. By the time the third person on the station talked about what they were doing when the earthquake hit, I was ready to shoot my TV Elvis style.

The footage they ran was even worse. There is honestly no noticeable difference between actual news footage and that trick my friends and I did as kids where we’d shake our video camera and pretend an earthquake was happening. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those stations actually went to their roof and started shaking a camera post-earthquake just to have something to show their viewers.

The Hurricane Irene coverage was much, much worse though. While the earthquake caught everyone off guard, these stations had time to plan for the hurricane. That means they could adequately work themselves and local viewers up into a nice big “panic lather” by the time the storm actually hit.

The storm itself turned out to be not as bad as originally expected – not that you’d know that by watching the coverage. Instead of leading with the fact that in many areas Irene – which had originally been a Category 3 hurricane – had been downgraded to a tropical storm, the reporters continued to talk about worst case scenarios and focus on the areas that would be hit the hardest. The first half hour of news coverage I watched failed to mention that the storm was downgraded. I didn’t find out until a friend called me and filled me in.

Also with hurricanes, the local news switches to “around the clock” coverage, something they are not prepared for. They don’t have the personnel for it, so the same anchors are stuck doing marathon sessions on the air, which does lead to some great unintentional comedy as they start to get punchy. (I’m convinced the NBC station in the DC area pulled Wendy Reiger off the air so she could get some rest before she started dropping f-bombs or letting her true feelings about her coworkers known on live TV.)

The most amusing part of hurricane coverage though is when they cut to the saps they send out to do the live remotes. These poor souls have to stand outside in a raincoat getting hammered by the wind and rain while the anchors, in their climate-controlled studio, ask asinine questions like: “What’s it like out there?”

But even then, there’s only so many people they can cut to and only so much those people can say without repeating themselves every five minutes. It didn’t take long for the on-site reporters to start looking for something – anything – new to talk about. I watched one reporter pick up a fallen street sign to show you the “carnage” caused by the storm. Another reporter interviewed a couple out walking their dog in the storm, asking them insightful questions like: “What are you doing out here?” And one guy just started directly addressing his daughter, apologizing for giving his son a mention earlier on the broadcast but not mentioning her name too.

It’s probably not a good thing that I openly started rooting for these people to get pelted in the face with tree branches whenever the anchors cut away to them. But can you really blame me? Prolonged exposure to TV news is a test of one’s sanity. The overly-dramatic worst case scenario reporting is bad enough, but the worst is watching these reporters simply trying to kill time.

The biggest knock on bloggers is that they aren’t “real reporters.” The argument goes that Internet writers don’t actually do any reporting, they simply regurgitate things other people have written, giving their own take on other people’s work.

However, I didn’t see a whole lot of real reporting on the news during these recent natural disasters. All I saw was a bunch of pointless rambling and fear-mongering designed to get local residents to rush out and buy milk, bread and toilet paper. (Yes, geniuses in the DC area, let’s all rush out and buy milk during a hurricane because that makes sense. Good luck drinking that milk when the power goes out.)

So I think I’ll stick to getting my news from the Internet. At least the information out there on the web tends to be more concise. And, instead of killing time with pointless news anchor blathering, I can kill time with cat videos.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at

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