I Hate Sweeps

I hate ’em, hate ’em, hate em.

Sweeps, for those of you lucky enough not to know, are the three or four months out of the year (February, May, November and sometimes July) when – in the pursuit of the highest possible ad rates – otherwise more-or-less normal local television reporters have to pretend they’re Sam Spade, Ralph Nadar and the community arbiters of morality by broadcasting “investigative reports” or “consumer alerts” or exposes of witches covens or nude maid services (you think I’m kidding?).

Ah, but wait, you say, those reporters perform a valuable service by alerting the public to potentially dangerous or troubling behaviors in our town. Freedom of press, etc., etc.

Certainly some do and when I get the motivation I’ll post my thoughts on “Why we need reporters.” We really do and – like other maligned professions – there are thousands of excellent journalists and others out there shining lights where they’re needed.

Unfortunately, those aren’t usually the ones I get to deal with.

The ones I deal with are the ones who use a plaintiff’s lawsuit like a script, supplement it with a couple of corroborating sources (supplied by – surprise – the plaintiff and his attorney), an interview from a supposedly objective third party (who has his or her own agenda) and – with all that in the can, with the promos cut, with the station management having been told to expect it – then make a call to the subject of the story for an interview because the reporter “has a couple of questions.”

Now, how much chance do you think the subject of that report has to change the momentum of that story? That’d be, “None.”

Want to know why so many people on these programs send a statement and refuse to appear on camera? Not because they don’t have a reasonable story to tell, but because they won’t get a chance to tell it except in the context of a story in which every other element is organized to shout, “Guilty!”

And, in what strikes me as the ultimate irony in these situations, the reporters I deal with are often pissed – I mean really pissed – when someone like me gets inserted into the process. How dare I come between the reporter and his victim…er, interview subject?

– Austin