Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Gimlet eye on WRAL

It's another spring weeknight in the Carolinas. I haven't yet mastered a "shut down" routine as recommended in Cal Newport's Deep Work, and raiding the freezer at this hour for a Drumstick ice cream seems irresponsible. Beyond that, going back to the novel I'm currently reading means keeping its characters sorted in my head, and I don't have the mental energy for that at the moment, so TV wins. 

I decided to have fun with story treatment in today's 7:00 pm news on WRAL, the local broadcast affiliate for both Fox and NBC, which in my head is best known for throwing talent and money at its "severe weather center" and "storm team."

  • In the first news block, there's a story about 70 municpal employees suing the city of Raleigh over its vaccination and COVID policies, including a monthly surcharge that Raleigh will soon be levying against medical insurance for the unvaccinated.

    Many of those suing the city are first responders, the reporter notes, without providing any other context for the suit, such as how the city settled on its $50 per month figure for the surcharge. Neither reporter nor anchor mentions that even vaccinated people can still get COVID. I'd also like to know a bit about the history of suits like this -- have municipal employees in North Carolina filed class action suits against their employers before? Alas, WRAL won't answer questions like mine.

  • The lawsuit story is followed by a story describing an FDA meeting about "the need for a fourth [COVID] booster shot." After the in-studio introduction, both news anchors toss to a field reporter who quotes a local doctor touting boosters ("If you've only had three shots...I am a little concerned.").

    The story includes a plug for a local pharmacy. Juxtaposing its fear-mongering against the suit by people who "chose not to be vaccinated" (emphasis from the WRAL anchor, because it's their fault) makes the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Raleigh sound unreasonable. Was that the intent?

  • The one bright spot in the broacast turns out to be a hit from a Duke University School of Public Policy professor about events in Ukraine. It's very clear that the intentional targeting of civilians is a war crime, he says, while describing the "repetitive fire patterns" used by Russian artillery to shell an area, pause, and then resume fire so that first responders in that area are targeted, too. That's a detail I haven't heard elsewhere.

    The professor also points out the Vladimir Putin is, among other things, a "serial bigamist." Unlike most of the people who provide sound bites for this broadcast, Professor Simon Miles contributes several nuggets of new information. Full marks to WRAL producers for his segment, which unfortunately seems to be the only one of its kind.

  • Following the Ukraine story and a blurb about the shooting of two people in Fayetteville (with no names released by the police and no suspects found yet), WRAL teases a story about how supply chain woes might be good for business. Say what?

    It turns out that two local pundits think the pandemic represents a "significant opportunity" for companies to be proactive rather than reactive about their sourcing. That's a solid point, but it doesn't mean that supply chain disruptions are good, as WRAL claimed while trying to gild the decomposing lily. 
Local news producers have never called me for advice, but then they tend not to use inset maps when talking about wildfires or shootings in other states, either. How hard would that be? Are Carolinians supposed to recognize the names of little towns in California's Napa Valley, for example? 

I give this newscast a C+, which it gets only because the Duke University professor added unusual detail about the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Update (18 April): In a story on evening newscasts about mask mandates being lifted at RDU Airport in the wake of today's ruling by a federal judge who struck down the nationwide travel mask mandate that the CDC had imposed for more than two years, the WRAL reporter is wearing a mask. I hope that was a personal choice rather than a diktat from her producers, because the optics involved are decidedly ironic.

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