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2009—the year the media moved my cheese

Stateside with Rosalea Barker

2009—the year the media moved my cheese

::Worst TV set makeover::

When the Newshour with Jim Lehrer became the PBS Newshour in December, it was immediately obvious that the map behind the opening anchor was going to be a problem. It’s a map of North America, and the Great Lakes just happen to be at head height. Depending on the upper-body height and head size of the anchor sitting in the chair in front of it, the background makes the anchor look like: a) he has floppy supernumerary ears growing out of his scalp (Jim Lehrer); b) she has feathers sprouting out the top of her head (Judy Woodruff); and so on for each of the anchors who now rotate duty at that particular desk.

The anchor desk is a horseshoe shape but with a very narrow opening for the anchor’s chair, so there’s not much that can be done except for the anchor to scooch slightly to the left or to the right in order not to suffer from a sort of “telegraph pole growing out of your head” look.

The changed news format that went along with the set and name change also got off to a rocky start, with the co-anchors awkwardly indulging in the name-calling that goes on in local TV news bulletins when an anchor is throwing to a reporter out in the field. That’s justified in a situation where the viewer mightn’t know who the reporter is, but in a news program that uses the same four or five people, it’s not really warranted. Thankfully, they soon dropped the name-calling to a bearable level.

Nonetheless, the new presentation format is an improvement over the old.

::Worst TV show format change::

This Week in Northern California has also changed its format. It used to be that four local reporters would sit around a table with host Belva Davis, and each one elaborated on a topic from the week’s news and was questioned by the others, much like Washington Week from DC. Now, there’s a short “headlines” section at the top of the show, then a segment involving three reporters in the old format, followed by a one-on-one studio interview of an invited guest—who may or may not be a reporter—by Belva Davis. The show rounds out with a “partnership” segment from the arts program Spark.

All that in half an hour. I guess they had good reasons for moving to a magazine format, but I rather miss the full half-hour of Belva and the other reporters asking intelligent questions of each other.

::Worst TV format change::

The nationwide change to digital television was first supposed to have taken place in February. Then it was moved to June. In fact, most stations in the Bay Area were still fiddling about with their broadcast antennas until well into October. Sometimes I can receive the local CBS and ABC affiliates, but not all the time. It seems to depend on the weather. I miss their local political reporters—two of the best, in my opinion.

On the plus side, DTV has meant I can watch the MHz Worldview channel, which is carried by KCSM, a public broadcasting station that operates out of the College of San Mateo and broadcasts educational programs and jazz radio on its two other digital channels. Sadly, KCSM is in dire financial straits because of the California state budget, and may go off the air altogether. It doesn’t show the kind of slick programs that San Francisco’s KQED can afford to air (like the two mentioned previously), but its programming is more akin to what public broadcasting was envisioned to be in the early days.

::Most exasperating cable offer::

So, why not just give up on free-to-air and invite a cable company in to vacuum out your wallet every month, I hear you ask. Well, I’ve been waiting for AT&T’s U-Verse system to become available in my area for over a year now. I signed up for an “it’s available” email alert way back then and never heard a peep about it until I cancelled my AT&T DSL internet service last June in anticipation of being laid off from my job.

Suddenly I had AT&T customer service reps calling up day and night offering me U-Verse, which they said had been available in my zip code for some time. Only problem, according to one of the CSRs, is that in order for U-Verse to work, where I live needs to have three-wire electric wiring, which it doesn’t. I give up.

::Fiercest mobile phone battle::

Verizon, part of the vodafone group of companies, has been clobbering AT&T’s 3G mobile phone coverage with its “there’s a map for that” TV ad campaign, highlighting Verizon’s superior nationwide coverage. Verizon also snagged Google’s Droid phone as an antidote to AT&T’s monopoly on iPhone service.

Recent news reports highlighted AT&T’s unlimited data plans as clogging up bandwidth, saying it was the only mobile phone provider that offered such a plan. Odd, since I have an unlimited data plan with Verizon… except that for the first time in the two years I’ve been with them, I recently got a “downloading is not available in this area” message from Verizon when I tried to click through to a web page on my phone. Apparently I’ve fallen off the map for that.

::Oddest newspaper ploy::

In a year when newspapers all across the country either stopped publishing altogether or went weekly instead of daily or online only, the San Francisco Chronicle has switched from being entirely free online to getting you to pay for having a digital replica delivered to your computer if you’re interested in the hot topics of the day. The battle for California’s water is one of the premium topics that is being exploited in this manner.

Plenty of papers and magazines already use the premium content subscription model, and more are predicted to do so in the coming year, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a single story used as a lure. I have to say that, in my case, it’s probably going to work. Now my choice is between buying a Sunday edition paper with its hundreds of column-inches of stuff (not to mention all the ad inserts) I don’t read and which I’ll have to recycle, or setting up a Paypal account to read the material online in a clunky viewer. Or I can wait until the story is finally released on the Chron’s website.

Well, I suppose if I really do value reporters’ insights into the world, I should be prepared to pay for them. So I bought the Sunday Chron, only to find that the California water story took up less space—both on the front page and inside the paper—than a story about San Francisco’s TransAmerica Pyramid office block, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary.

::The final “joke’s on me”::

Going out and buying a DVD should be a safe bet, right? Who wouldn’t want a three-disc set of Barack Obama’s historic rise to the presidency, from the Iowa caucuses to his inauguration? Just after Christmas, I bought the final one available in my local Walgreens, but after struggling my way through the shrink wrapping and that impossible sticky thing across the top of the plastic sleeve I opened it up to find—nothing! A completely empty case.

Is Mill Creek Entertainment trying to tell us something?

Well, if there really is such a thing as “the power of hope”, here’s hoping you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

*************

--PEACE—

rosalea.barker@gmail.com

EN

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