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4/30/2008


The Takeaway, or wasn’t Hockenberry once a Respected Journalist?

Filed under: News, Radio Today — Charlie Summers @ 10:08 am

Oh…my…god.

Sorry, after re-listening to the first few Million-Dollar President productions from PRI, which is the pilot-set for PRI’s new morning news The Takeaway, airing now on a precious few PRI stations, I am writing this so I don’t become so depressed I slit my wrists after listening to the hosts of this program joking their way through an interview on The Bob Edwards Show. Just like NPR’s Trailer- Bryant Park Project, these guys have clearly used focus groups composed of children with the IQ of a turnip. Seriously, I know a whole lot of 20-somethings, and none of them are so brain-damaged as to listen to this nonsense.

Let me ignore NPR’s entry into the dumned-down-news category and focus on PRI’s as demonstrated in the Billion-Dollar President disaster, hosted by Adaora Udoji and John Hockenberry. The first episode/pilot aired a few months ago, and began with the formerly-respected Hockenberry telling an outright lie. No, you read that right, a news program starting out running a phony news story delivered with the somberness of legitimate news. I honestly was so stunned by the utter stupidity of such an act I was unable to move…what the hell happened to a formerly-respected journalist who is remembered for his solid reportage on NPR by those of us who grew up with the public radio system? A guy who goes off to the major networks and performs solid reporting there? What deadly trauma could possibly have changed him into a wanna-be standup comedian and…well…a liar?

Ok, once you get over the idea that nothing you hear these people say can be accepted as real news, you think there’s nothing else to annoy you…but you would be so wrong. Udoji, who apparently came from ABC and Court TV, may be (or at least may have been) an excellent reporter (since I never wasted time with Court TV I wouldn’t know), but here she’s nothing but a giggling foil to Hockenberry’s bullpucky — and this is actually worse in The Takeaway than in the pilot shows! The two of them together try to be the “Opie and Anthony” of news reporting (yeah, let that concept sink in for a moment), and instead become the poster-children for everything that is wrong with our personality-driven, all-flash-and-no-substance society. I didn’t think it would be possible to make reporting on the upcoming election less interesting than yet-another-Brittany-in-Hospital sighting, but they manage it with horrifying aplomb.

And now that The Takeaway is live, we can clearly hear all the problems with it…an attempt to be all things to all people, “personality-driven” radio without any real personality, and lots of “audience participation,” even though if I wanted to hear from people as ignorant as I am about what’s happening in the world today, I’d probably call some friends. (What is it that makes these call-in shows so bloody popular? Are we really that interested in hearing our peers sound like chuckleheads?) What I want is actual news, not an endless stream of pundits and “real people” who are generally even more clueless than I am (and that’s saying something).

Ok, let’s break down the problem with this: people who listen to Howard “HooHoo” Stern aren’t interested in news, so trying to make your newscast compete for these people is the height of stupidity…naturally, it seems both NPR and PRI are determined to do exactly that. They want to do, “personality radio,” and end up with the network radio version of the worst high-UHF television happy-slap news broadcast you can imagine. You really expect the weather folks to be dressed in a bunny suit, and it’s all tied together with pseudo-hip music apparently designed by someone in their sixties to appeal to twenty-somethings.

Good lord.

This trend in radio network news began it’s downward spiral when Jay Kernis (now off to CNN to see if he can make that network any less relevant, too) et al changed NPR’s formerly-excellent Morning Edition from actual news to light features and happy-talk tickle-speak, and it continues to dumb itself down farther and father, until eventually we’re going to look back fondly at the 1990’s era Entertainment Tonight as an example of hard news. And this so soon after celebrating the 100th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow’s birth…with a sidelong-look at the current CBS news anchor and feeling underfoot the tremors of someone rolling over in his grave.

It’s truly frustrating for a news junkie like me, someone not interested in nonsense. I want news, and they keep giving me talk. I want information, they give me personalities. I want in-depth reportage, they give me fluff.

I believe I know what would work perfectly as a morning news program…what program format would actually provide engaging news and information that the electorate could actually use. How about a program with solid reporting by reporters around the world, with a single trusted anchor who performs that role; not someone parachuting into news stories without a clue and taking them over solely to inflate their own ego, but rather someone in the studio every day, holding the program and the listener together with a sense of calm and intellect no matter how insane the news of the day happens to be. Not a lot of chats between the anchor and the reporter, rather actual radio reports, complete with actual sound of the events and newsmakers themselves, not someone telling me what that newsmaker said. Crafted audio news reports, tied together by someone trusted by the listener.

Oh, wait…

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