From College To Media
Sac State vs. The Suck State of Mainstream Media
Chapter 3: Writing TV News

Introduction: A Journey Through Mass Media Education
Chapter 1: Why I Majored in Communication
Chapter 2: The Art of Radio
Chapter 3: Writing TV News
Chapter 4: Studying To Be a Rock Star
Chapter 5: Exploring the Age of Incoherence
Chapter 6: The Science of Media Persuasion
Chapter 7: How Stats Influence Perceptions
Chapter 8: Strategies for Winning a Debate
Chapter 9: Programming Music Instead of Computers
Chapter 10: My Career in Media

by Alex Cosper, October 27, 2015

The three reasons people communicate, according to several of my communication courses, are to inform, to entertain and to persuade. Whatever other reasons you can think of can probably be loosely grouped in those three categories, or might overlap in a few or all of them. To "love," for example, can be argued to fit all three categories. In the world of media, news is supposedly to inform, art is for entertainment and advertising is pure persuasion.

News always seemed so serious to me going way back. One of my earliest memories as a young kid before I started kindergarten was seeing the picture of an overturned car on the front page of the newspaper. Another early memory was the RFK assassination in 1968 and the first man on the moon in 1969. Those were all clearly serious events. The Patty Hearst kidnapping case in 1974, as I mentioned earlier, was what pulled me into listening to radio news and handcrafting a newspaper for my parents while I was in sixth grade.

I became interested in politics and history in 1971 and learned all the presidents on my own when I was in the third grade. No other students I knew at the time seemed to care about it. Presidential speeches captivated me. At a young age all the presidents seemed like icons, but by the time I was in college a lot of them didn't seem all that great after all, other than I always thought Kennedy stood out as a great orator.

Regular local news bored me for the most part. I mostly cared about national issues, which I kept up with on a sporadic basis. I usually didn't bother watching much TV news except from time to time. To me the latest music was the news. My Broadcast Technique class was more about production and delivery style than studying issues of the world. I had learned a lot about television presentation already from my high school Radio & TV station KRAT.

Studying To Be a News Personality

My Broadcast Technique class was taught by Janis Gin, who later moved on to working in San Francisco Bay Area media. We had to write a report on Sacramento media, learn speaking techniques and give class presentations. It was a helpful class that covered the science of how the human voice works. From this study I developed an understanding of how vocal cords and other parts of the body affect how we sound when we speak. One of the things I learned that always stayed with me was to relax my shoulders when I talk, since talking with raised shoulders restricts air passage through the neck.

The early eighties marked a new era in broadcast journalism as women began to populate the industry and a lot of the old rules were being overthrown. The typical exaggerated deep voice announcer of the past was being overshadowed by announcers who spoke more naturally. Television journalists were becoming more personable and less strictly business types.

One day in late 1982 Professor Gin gave me the name of a contact person at KTXL Channel 40, where she worked, and said I should arrange to have an interview about a job opening for writing newscasts. She liked my term paper on local KCRA news personalities called "Channel 3 Celebrities," in which I got an A. Interestingly, one of the personalities I mentioned was reporter Kristine Hanson, who once went to Sac State, although I only found that out years later in 2015 when I began to gather my notes and do research for this project.

Kristine Hanson stood out as very attractive, so it's no wonder she was on TV in the first place. She was unique in the sense that not every attractive female gets to pose for the centerfold of Playboy. I didn't know it at the time, but I found out from my research that she was the "Playmate of the Month" in the September 1974 issue. That was just shortly after I started listening to the radio on a regular basis in seventh grade, when I knew very little about the magazine.

Hanson went on to have a long successful career in broadcasting, resulting in winning an Emmy Award and an American Women in Radio and Television Award. Her degrees at Sac State were in Communication Studies and Theatre Arts. She also gained a degree in meteorology from San Francisco State University. She was a meteorologist for local TV stations KTXL, KOVR and KCRA. She went on to do the same work at San Francisco TV stations KTVU, KGO and KRON. In my Channel 3 critique I noted that Hanson appeared to be the station's sex symbol, adding, "it is very hard for anyone not to notice her, regardless of the story."

The report covered all the main personalities on the station at the time, which included anchor Stan Atkinson, who still had a beard from disguising himself in a series of special reports from Afghanistan, covering the Soviet invasion there. I mentioned how it reminded me of a 007 adventure story, which probably helped KCRA's image as an expanding news source. My description of his co-host, Susan Gregory, was "she does a nice job overcoming the stereotype that men are smarter than women." At the time women were just beginnning to gain anchor positions in local television news.

I wrote that Bette Vasquez was very attractive and popular as the station's weather reporter and that may have been one of the keys to the station's enormous success. "Somewhat mystical in nature," I wrote, "Bette tends to give the show a soap-opera quality as viewers constantly wonder what Bette's hair color will be the next day." By contrast, I explained how sportscaster Creighton Sanders was much more serious with a more strict emphasis on the facts in his presentation (as if sports is the most serious part of a newscast).

The culimination of my analysis of KCRA could be projected on many other TV newscasts of the era: "Personality is the message of Channel 3 Reports. Twenty-five years ago reporters had an objective attitude in the news media. But with the arrival of new journalism and the emphasis on local programming, reporters no longer stand outside the news like invisible observers. Today they are part of the news since they have acquired celebrity status. Therefore, Sacramento has become a Mini-Hollywood for Stan, Susan, Bette and Creighton. No matter how big the news is, those four will be bigger in the long run."

News Off the Wire

When I met with the News Director at Channel 40 for my interview, my perception of news took a completely different direction. He wanted to see how well I could write a news story for television by having me pull stories off the teletype machine and rewrite them in my own words. So he left me alone for about a half hour as I looked over the news off the wire and noticed most of it was about violent crime. It occurred to me at that moment that I didn't really want anything to do with constantly filling my head with crime stories. It conflicted with my world visions as defined in the songs "Imagine" by John Lennon and "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles.

My history throughout school was getting up in front of the class and saying funny stuff that made people laugh. I was always able to ridicule how the system was ridiculous. Then in the early days of my career, it was all about being a live DJ: hosting weddings, parties and roller rink sessions, in which I was able to mix humor with music to create a fun atmosphere. Studying how personalities had taken over news seemed interesting to me, at least from an analytical perspective.

Focusing on murder stories, however, seemed like a spooky distraction from my real career goals, as blurry as my future still appeared. The last thing I wanted was to deal with the constant bummer of real crime stories. So when the News Director came back in the room, I asked him if it were normal for there to be that many crime stories in one day and he said "yes." Then I was honest and said I probably couldn't handle writing about such depressing news every day. I still sort of acted like I wanted the job, but I didn't hear back from him, which was completely understandable.

Dirty Laundry

One of the most interesting songs that came out in the Fall of 1982 was "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley. It dealt with how newscasters are all about image and not so much substance. At the roller rink it was a big hit, but more for its steady beat and hypnotic keyboard sound. As a social commentary song, I thought it was as intelligent and artistic as a John Lennon song, since the lyrics dealt with the meaningful metaphor of "dirty laundry" equating with bad news.

It marked another important theme to the soundtrack of my college education. The line "she'll tell you about the plane crash with the gleam in her eye" completely summarized what I thought about televison news. I was deep into learning about what was going on with social change, but not so much about cherry-picked disasters presented as news entertainment.

Continue to Chapter 4: Studying To Be a Rock Star

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