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GUEST BLOG #3: Yet Another New TVWW Contributor -- Tom Brinkmoeller
March 24, 2009  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
 

No kidding: This place, all of a sudden, is starting to turn into a Dream Team of TV critics. First Diane Werts, then Bill Brioux, then our newest veteran recruits, PJ Bednarski and Ed Martin. More are on the way, and here comes one now: former TV critic Tom Brinkmoeller, of The Cincinnati Enquirer and elsewhere.

If you're worried that a few years off the beat are likely to dilute the passion or prose of a talented, respected TV critic, his (re)introductory column/blog for TV WORTH WATCHING presented here, on CNN anchor Nancy Grace, should alleviate those worries completely...

Please take a few moments to read this. It's precisely the sort of thing print newspapers are making room for less and less -- which is precisely why I'm determined to make room for it more and more. Log a comment, and let him know he's welcome.

 

Nancy Grace Under Fire

I don't have sideburns, never drove a Cadillac, and if I ever tried to gyrate, I'd probably forfeit what's left of my hip. Still, Elvis Presley and I have something oddly in common. He lived in Graceland; I live in Nancy Grace land.

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That's Orlando, Fla., for those who don't know me. And Ms. Grace, CNN's sword of justice, the nation's self-appointed chief inquisitor, the only person who found career-guidance from watching Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition skit, loves this place.

Whether it's an astronaut named Lisa Marie who allegedly ended her stalking tour in Orlando, missing little girls from the region (Caylee and Haleigh), a missing boy named Trenton from a neighboring county or any other crime-smelling sensation, the TV host surrounds herself with a pitchfork-toting lynch mob, lights her own torch (making her a Nancy Grace under fire) and brings her cameras and oddly singular focus to this area to further her unique brand of vigilante journalism.

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Like Joe McCarthy did before her, she has little use for and virtually disregards the judicial process. Bully tactics are so much more effective in drawing crowds and inciting fury. The game is numbers, and her rules for attracting and keeping viewers never will win her a Murrow Award. Just ever-increasing paychecks, I guess. As Jerry Springer proved years ago, putting on an outrageous show daily makes one very famous.

l don't watch Ms. Grace much, and I don't think good things about her tactics -- if you haven't already guessed that. But here in Nancy Grace land, her bludgeon-and-bury philosophy has slopped over into formerly semi-responsible news organizations. That more than bothers me. And if it is happening here, in what never has been a really competitive news market, I'm guessing it's even worse in markets in which news always was taken seriously as a source of big revenue.

I've been living here for nearly a quarter-century, and in that time the state of local broadcast news seldom has been something to admire. As one who covered broadcasting in an even-smaller market before moving here, I understand that good broadcast journalists have looked at working in Orlando as a stopover, a time during which they do an impersonation of settling until there's an opening on the next plateau. (In Cincinnati, TV news people came to town and unpacked only the necessities, making the getaway all the smoother.)

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But with the advent of the Caylee Anthony case and the success Ms. Grace has had in exploiting it, local TV reporters give the impression they just might stay after all. With its combination of sensational stories and nearly endless sunshine, this just might be a reasonably good place to park a journalism star and leave it. Covering blizzards won't make you a star, and they're hell on the wardrobe.

Repeatedly quoting unnamed singular sources, injecting pejorative opinions into news stories and grandstanding by yelling outrageous questions and positioning oneself so all cameras capture your act whenever there's a perp walk are so much less messy and more gratifying, even though the market may be smaller than in that blizzard-prone city.

Anchors here freely join in the sport, sometimes trying to upstage the tactics of their field reporters. News directors, undoubtedly, sanction and encourage these activities. General managers happily report the revenues that result from all of this to their corporate bosses. Analysts comment favorably on the corporations' profits and all over America, broadcast employees of all ranks manage to hang on to their jobs for another quarter by championing sludge.

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This digestive byproduct has spilled onto print journalism, once the self-anointed arbiter of news sanctity. Circulation numbers used to be the paper world's equivalent of broadcasting's ratings system, and numbers of papers sold resided outside the mighty wall that encircled the newsroom. Circulation today means hardly anything. Clicks on newspaper Web sites are the drips of medicine keeping newspapers alive, and the wall was demolished to make way for this lifeline.

So, in this market at least, the newspaper Web site bears little resemblance to the hard-copy version left in fewer and fewer driveways. This was true even before The Orlando Sentinel ripped most of the guts our of its paper version, but it's even worse now that the parent company, Tribune, passes its days in a fiscal hospice. Regularly, paging through the electronic version of this paper is worse than standing in the supermarket check-out line, reading the bizarre headlines on the tabloids.

Maybe all of this is evolutionary, an adaptation in order to survive. But the resulting animals, though survivors, are more primal than ever. Observing their output requires high boots and a gas mask.

It's ironic that a broadcast journalist played a large role in derailing the aforementioned Sen. McCarthy. Perhaps someone within the profession will turn a mirror on it someday soon for purposes other than applying makeup. Till then, Nancy Grace land isn't pretty, but it attracts big crowds. With luck, someday she and her sycophants, like Elvis and his entourage, may leave the building.

--

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Tom writes: Before Tom Brinkmoeller was a journalist, he was an extremely undistinguished cop. He started reporting for a daily newspaper by covering cops. He then covered federal district and appellate courts before realizing his dream of covering broadcasting. He left journalism almost 25 years ago, but won't let himself forget the principles that, at the time, fought off the efforts of the corporate pencil-pushers who saw nothing special about good journalism.



3 Comments

 

Laura said:

Thank you for that; I'd like to read more of your very level-headed, justifiably angry prose (or happy, or any other impression you're having at the time).

Comment posted on March 24, 2009 6:00 PM


Dave Hunt said:

Tom,

GREAT words!

Comment posted on March 25, 2009 9:23 AM


Bart Jenkins said:

Let's stop demonizing Nancy Grace. She fights the good fight and is right to cover the Casey Anthony case the way she does. Absolutely disgusting that people go after her instead of child murderers like Casey. Sick.

Comment posted on May 1, 2009 1:03 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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