Saturday, November 14, 2009

"A Life in the News"

And Now a Word from Canada's Ted Baxter...

“A Life in the News”
By Tony Parsons
ISBN No. 978-1-55017-461-8
There’s a chapter in this funny, thoughtful memoir from the anchorman of British Columbia’s most popular news program that’s titled “A Short Chapter on a Long-Standing Gripe” that unexpectedly sums up the whole book. In it Parsons complains about on-air flubs and typos. Viewers of Vancouver’s Global news (the show he hosts) will wonder how such an incident-rich history could be such a short chapter. Parsons, apparently, wonders as well. Well, he wonders why all those Middle Eastern regimes insist on electing men with unpronounceable names. He quotes letters from annoyed viewers telling him the difference between “pursuing” charges and “perusing” charges (one of his show’s typos). Then he shares some funny on-air gaffes, like when his former co-anchor called a bone marrow donor a “boner donor.” And then there are the missed cues; moments when the camera is on and the anchor doesn’t know. And what about whe- Sigh… Weren’t the Webster awards (Global has won a few over the years) supposed to be for excellence? Rejoice, fans of The Mary Tyler Moore Show; WJM-TV is alive and well and telecasting from Burnaby B.C.!!!
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (okay, it is if you’re a serious news junkie). The public has spoken and this is what they want: to watch stories hot off the wire service read by the same kind of people they wouldn’t mind chatting with while they’re waiting for the bus: unthreatening, smiling, and admittedly human in that ‘everyone-makes-mistakes’ kind of way. A memoir by the anchorman of such a show should be a no-brainer; a behind-the-scenes look at the people behind the news. But while Mom and Pop Canada will be charmed by Parsons’ self-deprecating honesty about his bouts with drink, depression, and marriage (he’s currently on his fourth), aspiring journalists will do a lot of skimming – until they get to a couple of wow-worthy chapters where Parsons talks about covering political scandal, the future of TV news and – especially - his vivid recollection of being disciplined for criticizing his boss and co-workers publicly. Still, the book is also likely to give anyone who cares about proper English and likes their news delivered with some dignity a major mad-on about the current state of the fifth estate. Yes, Parsons says, he’s frustrated by the on-air typos. And, yes, according to the book he’s hand-delivered dictionaries and books on correct grammar to the office gremlins himself. All of which begs the question: So why do the flubs just keep coming? And why is Parsons complaining to the public when he’s the one in a position to demand it get fixed? Maybe the Global on-air crew should just ad-lib the news if reading it is such a bother. Whatever your potshot, it’s a disturbing, enlightening and bizarre situation that a book that’s supposed to celebrate an anchorman’s legacy should instead prompt the question: Why should anyone care about proper spelling and grammar if the most watched news show in B.C. doesn’t? I mean isn’t the news, as Lou Grant once told Mary Richards, something sacred?
Well, apparently the rules are different at Global and the result is that everything that the Global news show touches gets tainted: the ratings system which says they’re the most watched news program in B.C. (which in itself is a sorry statement about the devolution of the Canadian voter), the news shows on other channels (in a bid to catch up to Global, ratings-wise, the formerly smart CTV newscast has adopted the former’s torturous friendly banter between cackling on-air “personalities”), and especially those “awards” for “excellence” Global’s won - despite all those on-air typos, missed-cues and mispronounced words.