A few days ago my mother sent me a text: Urgent. Your father is convinced you are stranded. He wants to help you evacuate you from Houston. Please call.
I smiled, and later that morning took a picture of the picture blue sky outside my front door and the dry driveway. All is well. I wrote. Tell dad to stop watching the news.
Don’t get me wrong. We have had more than our fair share of rain and flooding this year. It’s a serious problem down here. Thankfully, even with the 1 in 500 year floods we have had (twice in the last month), our house has weathered just fine. It’s true outside of Houston, the rivers are higher than they have ever been and some communities next to the rivers are in danger, but that is far from our enclave in the center of the city.
However, if you were to watch any of the national news programs, you (like my dad) may be inclined to think Houston was sinking into the Gulf from all the flooding. And aside from the dramatization of the flooding; more and more of the nightly news is devoted to yearly United States weather patterns. A tornado hit a town in Kansas. A flood in Texas. A drought in California. You get the picture. Is this really all we, as news-consuming citizens, care about? Weather, and US politics? The news has become a predictable cycle of local weather stories and political pandering.
All of this may not be so bad, despite the fact there is newsworthy information all around us that rarely hits our TV. Venezuela – one of the world’s largest exporters of oil – is becoming a failed state. It’s economy is collapsing and US TV news has told us virtually nothing about it. The 2016 olympics start in two months; and they have been dubbed the “Zika Olympics“. South Korea’s team are going to be wearing mosquito-proof uniforms. And then all those Olympians will travel back across the world; back to their home countries. How risky is this? Is this not newsworthy (and bizarre)? And have you heard the word “Brexit”? The British are looking to possibly exit the EU. This is big news for Europeans who live in Britain, and speaks to the greater feeling about the anxiety over immigration into Europe. The same anxiety many Americans feel right here at home. Isn’t our closest ally newsworthy?
You could argue that TV is not where you get quality news programing. Print news (and some new media – such as The Atlantic) do a far better job reporting than the rating-driven TV news. And that’s true. If you want to get real news, it’s in print, or online. Not on TV. But should that be the case when the majority of Americans still get their news from the Television? At the end of the day, I still like to sit down and watch the headlines on TV. And I’d like to trust I’m getting the HEADLINES. But I don’t, and that’s a problem.
American TV news is failing consumers. And not just because it references social media posts as facts, or quotes random people as if they are experts. The weather may be important if newscasters are trying to make a larger point regarding climate change; or if many lives are truly in danger. But by spending so much time covering stories like the rain in Houston, we are only failing ourselves.
And don’t worry dad, really, no evacuation necessary.