by James Smart
We don’t watch much television these days. I do like to watch the late news at 10 or 11 o’clock. Those anchor persons are right about everything. I know that because, when they switch over to some poor reporter standing in the middle of a snow drift or down the block from a car crash, the reporter always says, “That’s right. Jim” or “That’s right, Roger.”
I had editors in the newspaper trade who were always right, too, but we never had to tell them with thousands of people watching. Now, I can sit in the living room and play editor and criticize television reporters.
It’s great fun for a superannuated newshound like me to relax in the recliner and grumble when a guy reporting live from the scene of the story, with no chance to check on details, makes a mistake.
When that big train wreck happened in my boyhood neighborhood in 2015, I could watch a TV reporter standing on Frankford Avenue, just below the bridge over the Frankford Creek, near what the railroad people call Frankford Junction, and mutter sourly when the reporter said he was in Port Richmond.
In my many years as a newspaper reporter, we had time to ask questions on the scene, then phone a rewrite man, who gave the story to an editor and then a copy editor, and somebody was likely to spot anything wrong.
I still read the newspaper every morning, and that’s different from watching TV news. For one thing, I can skip the advertising. Don’t tell any of my friends or former colleagues that I said that, and especially don’t tell the publishers of this newspaper. They want all of us to read every word of every advertisement.
And newspaper advertising has lots of advantages over television advertising. You can’t re-read a television advertisement if you wanted to. You can’t cut out a TV ad and save it.
And many things are advertised in the newspaper that you don’t see on television. Real estate, for instance. And dogs, underwear, garage sales, used cars, movie theaters, grass cutters, beauty parlors and repairmen for whom no job is too large or too small.
During the late night news programs a few years ago, the advertising seemed to be mostly automobiles and mattresses. There was one couple who were in bed in a mattress commercial almost every night, it seemed for months. He pointed out to her that if they bought a new mattress, they could stay in bed longer. She seemed to consider that a good idea, but somehow they never got around to it, and there they were every night, lolling in bed between the weather report and the weather forecast.
Then, there are the automobile dealers’ ads. Most of the sales pitches are presented by a young woman who prances toward the camera among the cars on the dealership’s floor. They all look pretty much alike, and they walk and talk the same way. I suspect that there is a charm school somewhere that teaches them the accepted method of car-hustling and rents them out to the dealers.
In between the commercials and the over-elaborate weather reporting, we get some news, seen behind a reporter from about a block away or from a helicopter hovering way overhead. And I watch with the childish hope that some night, when the anchor person turns the screen over to a reporter on the street, the reporter will respond, “Well, no, Jim, that’s not exactly right.”
James Smart, 89, a West Mt. Airy resident for the past 33 years, has been a reporter, author and columnist for many Philadelphia area newspapers for the past 60-plus years.