Local News Needs to Be Better Than Prepackaged Fluff

Media Reviews for Media People: New York Nonstop

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I love the local news. I love the teaser-riffic previews ("Salmonella outbreaks in three nursery schools -- we'll tell you which ones, right after 'Bones'"). I love that most correspondents disregard the unforgiving HD cameras and slather on rouge in a manner less befitting a gatherer of facts than a rodeo clown or streetwalker. I especially love the consumer-protection segments, in which Righteous Man With Microphone literally chases after the used-car dealer who tricked Elderly Woman Who Looks Like She Could Be Your Grandmother into splurging on the undercarriage-simonizing for her '02 Taurus.

New York Nonstop's biggest sin: Its content comes across as stale.
New York Nonstop's biggest sin: Its content comes across as stale.
No, there's no greater source of inadvertent humor in the media than self-serious local news broadcasts, especially when chimps attack. So you can imagine my glee when I heard that the New York-area NBC affiliate was planning to launch New York Nonstop, a bantamweight alternative to the 'round-the-clock local-news channels that have popped up around the country's major metropolitan areas.

I crossed my fingers that New York Nonstop would prove a critical and commercial success, thereby empowering nooz folks in other markets to launch similar ventures. Think about the potential preponderance of man-on-the-street interviews about Bernie Madoff ("they oughta lock him up and throw away the key!!!"). My God, we'd never again be under-informed about the opening of a wine bar or Apple store.

I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. Despite having been blessed with a functional vocabulary and some basic sense of propriety, I don't know how to describe New York Nonstop as anything other than "news for dimwits." It is unimaginable to me that anybody -- natives, tourists, whoever -- would spend more than 12 seconds with its mix of tossed-off headlines and prepackaged fluff. Even its most sublime moments play like outtakes from an in-house hotel channel.

I doubt New York Nonstop will lure younger viewers, either. Judging by its whooshy sound effects and information-drooling visuals -- time and weather in one corner, an expanding buzz/news/events/weather sidebar down the right side of the screen, an "on tap" crawl at the bottom -- the network has oriented itself toward young'uns who find the 11 p.m. broadcast's 20-second items too dense and unwieldy. It even repurposes higher-aiming material from elder sibling WNBC-New York (an interview with NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly) in a way that, at least in theory, makes it slightly more palatable to the kiddies: The Wednesday-afternoon rebroadcast added an amorphous background soundtrack that resembled one of Beck's ambient instrumentals.

At the same time, the network can't get even those basic ADD elements right. Wednesday's bottom-screen crawl, for example, conveyed birthday wishes to tabloid mainstay Bobby McFerrin; the right-side news block acknowledged Registered Dietitian Day and offered the following earth-shattering revelation under the heading of "buzz": "Friend or foe? More grandparents discovering 'Facebook.'" To whom is any of this useful or diverting? They've got the space. Wouldn't it make more sense to devote it to, say, real-time transit information?

That might be New York Nonstop's biggest sin: With the exception of the every-15-minutes news and weather updates (the latter communicated by a dude wearing jeans and flashing a few curls of chest hair), its content comes across as stale. The purpose of a channel like this is to inform, yet New York Nonstop conveys only a few headlines before returning to its core effluvia, some of it poached from the urban-lifestyle cheerleaders at LX.TV. On a balmy mid-March day, the channel's repeat-heavy loop showcased winter skin-care tips, a music segment hosted by the seminal music authority that is Seventeen magazine, a smiley how-to on creating a "pencil cup pick-me-up!" and a bit on a public pay toilet that opened its, uh, door months ago.

Any channel that even peripherally traffics in news can't waste its time with such dated dross. If you're tuning in to get an update on delays at local airports and happen upon a New York magazine editor commencing her stay-healthy segment with "Putting a swab up your nose may not sound like the most attractive thing," well, chances are you're not clicking back anytime soon. Either be a full-on lifestyle network or don't.

New York Nonstop's personalities fancy themselves quite the merrymakers. The station specializes in idiot-with-microphone segments, in which an idiot armed with a microphone interacts with unsuspecting Times Square passers-by; these are as entertaining as malaria. A feature in which a testosterone tastemaker from Thrillist recommended amusing hatwear ended when the correspondent was tackled by one of his totally outrageous off-screen buds. The "Howcast" on paying less for cell-phone service commenced with footage of a dude about to fit himself with a noose.

But just when you think New York Nonstop has mirth on its mind, it lulls you nap-ward with a three-minute op-ed that packs the rhetorical punch of a failed debate-squad audition: "So you're thinking you want to go to the new Yankee Stadium in April to see a ball game. Sounds exciting. After all, there will be a fabulous new stadium. But wait a minute: How is a stadium being built in today's economy? ... It looks like the city was outslugged by the Yankees. ... Now is when [the mayor] needs to step up to bat." I watched this piece twice, assuming I missed a wink or some other cue that it was intended as a satire of community-access muckrakers. I didn't and it wasn't. From an intelligence perspective, material like this is far more offensive than the "funny" bits.

On its home page, New York Nonstop boasts that it "tells the stories you don't often hear." Well, maybe that's because saner, less demographic-obsessed media barons realize that nobody wants to hear them. Perhaps it's unfair to render a verdict on New York Nonstop only a few days after its debut. But if this is the future of local news, all of us -- telejournalists, marketers and especially viewers -- are screwed. I'm not big on wishing misfortune on others, but we need this thing to fail, quickly and expensively, lest that its news-ertainment approach becomes the industry standard.

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