The Five Stupidest Gimmicks in Cable News…

Gotta give credit where it’s due. This topic germinated from a tweet by Piers Morgan EP Jonathan Wald…

Not enough countdown clocks for the Presidential Address.

Just mention the word “coutndown clock” and the cable news hairs on the back of my neck start to raise up. But it got me to thinking about other idiotic gimmicks that have no real value which cable news uses over and over again. So here are my top 5…

Countdown Clocks – As if something is going to happen before the clock reaches zero?!?! Of course not. There was a time in the days of yore when, if there was something that was going to happen at a specific time, a graphic would be put up noting the time and that would be it…the channel would move on to something else. Not anymore. Now we get a countdown clock. We get a countdown clock before speeches, before events, before hurricanes reach landfall, after the hurricane has reached landfall (the reverse countdown clock). The only thing these clocks are there for is to hype the story. They have zero news value in most instances.

Social Media “integration” – This one is conditional (I’ll get to why in a moment). Like those old blue light emitting electrical flying insect killers you used to hang up outside your abode decades ago, Social Media “integration” as cable news currently implements it is a trap designed to ensnare people into thinking cable news really wants to know what they think. But the reality is current Social Media integration is so haphazardly and inconsistently applied and followed through on in most instances it’s less of a journalistic tool and more of a hip gimmick used to make cable news look “cool” and relevant. Very few programs use social media effectively in terms of a true back and forth exchange of ideas and subjects. Most often social media is used by cable news this way: “Here’s today’s subject, tell us what you think and we’ll devote a few seconds of our hour(s) long program to it, provided that breaking news doesn’t get in the way.” It is extremely rare to see a program make extensive and consistent use of social media in a manner that differs from the previously cited approach. Maybe one day cable news will figure out social media and how to properly tap it. That day is not today. And probably not tomorrow either (Piers Morgan’s experimental Social Media experiment show Tuesday notwithstanding)

Exterior Live Shots – Something is about to happen at the White House so let’s put up a long shot of the White House’s exterior even though what’s about to happen is going to happen inside so this shot shows you absolutely nothing. Sound familiar? It happens all the time and not just with the White House. Cable news repeatedly hypes the story by training a camera on something that is tangentially relevant at best and gratuitous at worst to the actual story going on. A corollary to this would be chopper shots of some scene where something is going on but inside so the chopper shot is mostly useless. These shots serve one purpose and one purpose only, to artificially keep the viewer engaged in lieu of a dearth of actual news to report. In other words, it’s a gimmick.

Police chases – I don’t need to hit this one too hard because it’s already been hit hard repeatedly by many others. Suffice it to say, this gimmick is nothing more than a naked attempt at sucking viewers in to something that 99.9999999% of the country isn’t affected by.

Talking Head Analysis and Shoutfests Masquerading as Real Policy Discussion – By far this is the most cynical gimmick cable news has to offer. It’s cynical because the entire premise of this strategy is predicated on the theory that the viewing public is too indifferent at the very least or too stupid at the very worst to know the difference between talking point shouting and debating and real policy discussion designed to move us forward as a country. Unfortunately the viewing public routinely lives down to cable news’ cynicism by not tuning out and the ratings show they don’t. An entire industry now exists where a bunch of political operatives make themselves available for face time to discuss whatever and to do so unflinchingly and argumentatively. But what do we learn from these back and forths? Most of the time we learn nothing. Any astute cable news watcher can predict what these people are going to say before they say it and can come up with the counterarguments that their opponents will use before they use them. It’s a freak show really. There’s little journalistic value most of the time. You need the active players in the topic at hand to achieve news value but we rarely get them on the air M-Fr. We get their surrogates who parrot what the players might say but who lack any real stake at shaping the policy at hand. There are exceptions to this as some shows, mostly of the Sunday variety, do try to avoid going this route. Fareed Zakaria GPS is probably the best example where ideas are discussed and talking points are frowned upon. But GPS is more the exception than the norm. Cable news will continue to use this gimmick as long as it works. And it will continue to work as long as the public accepts the premise that talking point arguing and talking past each other = policy discussion.


29 Responses to “The Five Stupidest Gimmicks in Cable News…”

  1. So true, so true…

  2. fredorth Says:

    Goodness, excellent analysis that I find totally accurate!

  3. You’re being too kind about police chases. They use them to draw the audience to possibly witness a fatality on live television.

  4. The Countdown clocks are annoying… especially the one MSNBC used after Hurricane Katrina.

    The news ticker is annoying as well, especially since it’s only used during headline news coverage and not during talk shows, documentaries or anything else. In other words, when we don’t need the news ticker, we get it. This should be reserved only for breaking news events.

    “BREAKING NEWS” when the story broke four *days* ago. They used to use “New Development” when something broke out during an ongoing event. Or “Developing Story”. But “Breaking News” is overused.

    FOX News’ severely over-sized graphics… enough said.

  5. I thoroughly enjoy the police chases. Definitely have no wish to see a fatality on live television. Thus far, I haven’t.

  6. -Police Chases-

    NASCAR – Reality TV version

  7. Why not? NASCAR has been lame for like 10 years.

    Personally my least favorite gimmick on cable news is bringing on Dick Morris to say that Obama and the Democrats are wrong and doomed and also, go to his website and send him money. Why do they even bother? Isn’t O’Reilly bored of him?

  8. @alindc: 1994 Tyson Holly Farms 400: One car on the lead lap, fourth place finisher 2 laps down.

    2000 New Hampshire 300: Jeff Burton led all 300 laps en route to the win.

    2011 Auto Club 400: Decided by a pass on the last turn of the last lap (Harvick taking Jimmie to school).

    Yep, NASCAR’s lame and boring now and it was so much better 10, 20, 30 years ago.

  9. Part of that is O’Reilly’s fault by the way he asks some questions. Morris’s expertise is in political tactics and his opinion on right or wrong is a waste of time. Most guests on these shows are pushing their wares in one way or another.

  10. 2000 New Hampshire 300: Jeff Burton led all 300 laps en route to the win.

    That was a race where all the cars had been slowed down by restrictor plates after Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty died there that year. It was impossible to pass. A very weird race that was never duplicated, and not a reasonable example of NASCAR 11 years ago.

    The finishes are exciting now, but they’re too often artificially created by gimmicks introduced to “spice up the show”. The gimmicks and the interchangeable, ugly cars have hurt NASCAR.

  11. Except for the one mentioned in 2011, the examples did happen over 10 years ago! It just doesn’t seem exciting to me now. But maybe I just miss Dale Sr.

  12. Lets not forget those text polls that hosts like Ed Schultz do everyday. Total waist of time.

  13. I hear ya, ALinDC, it’s different without Sr. It doesn’t help that there’s kind of a sad attachment to his son that clearly bothers him. He doesn’t drive like his dad, doesn’t win like him, but has the same name. I don’t even know why he shows up; he never seems happy to be there.

  14. Lets not forget those text polls that hosts like Ed Schultz do everyday.

    “Get your cell phones out Michelle Bachmann loopy? 98% of you said loopy, 2% don’t know how to text.”

  15. missy5537 Says:

    Wasn’t it a gimmick on CNN’s part to bring on a Brit to do an American interview-type cable show? Sure, his accent is enchanting, but is he really “all that”?

  16. ^ Enchanting? What accent?

  17. Now, now Andy. We both know you’re only citing Harvick’s win because he’s your boy. If it had been Jimmie you wouldn’t have cited it.

  18. Wasn’t it a gimmick on CNN’s part to bring on a Brit to do an American interview-type cable show? Sure, his accent is enchanting, but is he really “all that”?

    Whether he’s reall “all that” is yet to be deterimined but Morgan’s hiring was definitely no gimmick. Now CNN hiring D.L Hughley…

  19. i loved DL Hughley show.

    Spud’s right about Andy. I saw his tweet about the race before I caught it on DVR. It said, “Poor Jimmie”. It didn’t tell me who won, but it told me I was going to thoroughly enjoy watching Jimmie Johnson lose. I did. 😉

  20. “Get your cell phones out Michelle Bachmann loopy? 98% of you said loopy, 2% don’t know how to text.”

    LOL… I hate when I see the polls so lopsided like that. I don’t really mind them, unless a network *cough* Fox *cough* takes them seriously as if they are even remotely scientific or have some legitimacy.

    I don’t mind it when the partisans from either side do it, though, because they are trying to adhere to a base that already agrees with them. They are already pushing their talking points, so why not interact with viewers a little more?

  21. Related to doing text polls and reading twitter comments on air is where both those gimmicks originated the streeter poll. That’s where a reporter asks supposed random people met on the street some question to advance the storyline of your segment.

    For example you want to do a story about voter decline in US elections because of apathy. So you ask 20 people on a street corner if they voted in the last election. As luck would have it, 12 say they do. You take the other 8 and edit their comments to create a story that there is a massive decline in voting because of apathy.

    Streeters aren’t done much anymore having been replaced by twitter and text polls but they were the gimmick of choice for years.

  22. — streeters —

    Love that name. Hannity used to do that on the radio, whenever I last listened, and I think just did one on TV recently. The ones on the radio were clearly played to make people look like idiots. He’d ignore or misinterpret what they said to make it look as though they didn’t know who the Veep was, or something. Of course on the radio, it doesn’t have the veneer of ‘news’. Not that his TV-show does, either.

  23. Making people who do street interviews look like idiots is not hard. Most wouldn’t know the VP’s name if you gave them the first and last names as a hint. 😉

  24. So right, you are. But in this case, the woman said ”I think it’s..Dick Cheney”. Hannity is like ‘You don’t know!!” and kept saying that she didn’t know who the veep was. That had to be seven-years-ago. Why do I remember this stupid stuff?

  25. Hannity only operates in the realm of the predictable. You know what he’s going to say, he knows what his guests are going to say, and any deviation confuses him.

    My issue with text polls on opinion shows is the “duh” factor. The host rails about something he’s pissed off about, then asks an agreeing audience how they feel about it. “Duh, Ed, if I didn’t think the right was trying to crush the unions, I probably wouldn’t have sat through the last 10 minutes of a segment called Is The Right Trying To Crush The Unions.”

  26. Sounds like Billo. With him though, he’ll say that he knows it’s going to be one-sided, but he wants to see the degree to which it’s one-sided. Dopey, but honest.

  27. Here’s another one, a minor point, but irritating. Cavuto, teasing a story. ”The latest trick, to get you to pay more at the store”. Um, let me guess. They’re making packages smaller. They’ve only been doing this since the beginning of time, more or less. Sounds more like a Megyn Kelly-promo, although everything’s less irritating when Neil does it.

  28. harry1420 Says:

    the biggest gimmick is putting opinion/commentary/debating shows and passing them off as news programs. come on, greta, bill ,hannity,beck or any of the other known non credible people shouldn’t cover REAL news. because chances are their viewers don’t want news they just want opinion. and also another gimmick is the fact some “cable news” channels aren’t news at all!

  29. @Spud: That’s not true…. okay, maybe a little. Just seems that nine times out of ten, when Harvick wins, it’s a race that goes to the wire!

    @joeremi: The fact that Jimmie lost made it much much sweeter! 🙂

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