DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, March 11, 2013

The News About the News

Does local TV news give too much emphasis to negative stories, especially crime? What will the effects of the sequester be on the country? How can TV repeatedly announce a crippling snow storm that fails to materialize?

These were just some of the questions NBC White House correspondent Peter Alexander and ABC 7's local news co-anchor Allison Starling attempted to answer last weekend when they appeared at the Newseum.

Allison Starling at her anchor desk
One of the sayings displayed on items at the Newseum is the newsroom slogan: If it bleeds, it leads, which means mayhem and violence make for an important story that should get prominent play.  Many people claim following that mantra leaves readers and viewers more frightened and that there should be more reporting on positive stories. "I understand that criticism and I think we've all been guilty of that (overemphasis on violence or destruction) at some point," Starling said. She added that since the lead stories of the night are promoted repeatedly before the actual newscast, such items do "make it seem like we are overdoing it."

Alexander said there is also an economic reason behind the decision to emphasize crime stories. "Covering crime is the easiest news to produce since everything you need is at one site, and, as a result, it is also the cheapest news you can cover."

The issue of the cuts, coming as a result of the sequester which went into effect this month, has been very much in the news and Alexander was asked about its impact. The correspondent explained that there is a 30-day period before most of the cuts begin. "We really don't know what the impact will be, but this was not the way to make cuts," he said.

Starling spoke about the news stories that reported a massive snow storm would be hitting the Washington area last week. That storm brought only heavy rain to the DC area. The co-anchor explained that the studies show that weather "is the #1 thing that people tune into local news for."

"I think as a result of that, we get ahead of ourselves at time, " Starling said.

Obviously, as a local TV market, DC is unique in that it is also the nations' capital. "I think it's the best local news market in the country. National news is local news for us. It's a challenging place to work because you think the president could be watching you," Starling said.

Alexander reports from the White House
Before he became a White House correspondent, Alexander spent more than a year covering the presidential  campaign of Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  He explained that duty brings a special set of  problems. "You hear that 'hey we've got this thing' and you begin to think he may just pull this thing off," Alexander said.  He noted that the unsuccessful end of a presidential campaign comes as an adrenaline shock to reporters, as well as the candidate and his staff.  "The end of a presidential campaign is about as abrupt as anything you will ever encounter. After all those months, at 9-ish on election day, it all ends." he said.  "One politician described it by saying 'It's like you've been driving in the Indianapolis 500 and now you're in bumper-to-bumper traffic."

Alexander said he shares the current sense of frustration that President Obama and his political team don't make themselves as available to White House reporters as the reporters believe they should. "With the new social media, there are a lot of ways to circumvent traditional media. If the White House puts out a picture of Obama playing with Bo, that's really propaganda," the correspondent maintained. "Sometimes, it's a one-way street and we want to pepper him with questions."

Starling addressed a common charge that reporters are biased in their reporting. "Of course, we bring all our life experiences to everything we cover, but you do your best to show all points of view. You have to remember it's not about me, but it's about the person involved in the story," she said.

Both Starling and Alexander expressed some concern with the increasing number of internet news sites and cable news stations that do come from a particular political view. In fact, America's increasing political polarization makes one idea clear, Alexander said. "The number of independent thinkers in the country is getting smaller and smaller," he said. To drive home his point, Alexander used a personal example. He said he has a young relative who claims to get a lot of her news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a faux news show on the Comedy Network. "I think the guy is pretty funny, but you can't make him your sole source of news."

So how do you make sure you are getting the full news picture? "You need to read and listen to a little bit of everything. That's the only way you can fight having the blinders on," Starling said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Starling and Alexander share more than the same career. They are also a husband and wife who exchanged their wedding vows at the Newseum last year. To read about how they balance their professional and personal lives read The Prices Do DC post Love in the News. 

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