Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Media: Still Anti-Streeter

TORONTO, ONTARIO - While long-time readers of this blog are probably tired of references to past posts, it is undeniable that I have long railed on this blog against the practice of "streeters," or man-on-the-street interviews, in news programming. Most notably, I heavily criticized CBC Television for the practice about a year ago. Someone asked me if my opinion would change if I actually heard a new idea from a man-on-the-street. I doubt it, but haven't written anything in case that scenario actually took place, since maybe it would.

I still haven't had that happen (whereas new ideas come up fairly regularly on quality talk radio programs), but an interesting "streeter" aired and forced some exploration of the topic anyway. In this Global Toronto piece about taking down portions of the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto, the man-at-a-gas-station forty seconds into the piece just happens to be someone I know. Amongst his lesser-known credentials are successful letters written to the city about traffic flow issues resulting in the city making suggested changes. As an enthusiast of sailing vessels and railways, one might call him a transportation expert.

It made me wonder if, by virtue of the greater emphasis on ideas in Canadian culture, Canadian "streeters" might actually be of greater value than "streeters" in the United States. Whereas the "man-on-the-street" in the United States would be more likely to express emotion, the "man-on-the-street" in Canada might be more likely to actually make an argument of some value. (Of course, the "Jaywalking" phenomenon on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno of finding absolute idiots on the street in California might over-emphasize such a distinction.)

Yet, I think this case pretty much seals it for me that the "streeter" is always a waste of time. In this segment, Global got lucky--they stumbled upon a guy who could probably argue the case for keeping the Gardiner Expressway as well as any traffic engineer, and communicate it in more vernacular terms ideal for the television audience. So what do they choose to air? "Tearing it down is the dumbest thing in the world." Trust me, it's almost guaranteed that he said something more specific than that, even than the next sentence that they aired, though I haven't asked him. They chose the most controversial sentence to air--it's that simple.

It reminds me of a time during a teacher's strike when I was in middle school. One of my teachers, who had traveled to the state capitol for a big protest, talked to a reporter there for about ten minutes about what they hoped to achieve in the strike, what some of the concessions might mean in the classroom, and how they thought the strike could end quickly. What made it to television? "I'm just really discouraged right now." In that case, the actuality wasn't even representative of what she had been saying--it was just what the reporter wanted for his story.

So, I'm back to my standard themes on this topic. "Streeters" are lazy reporting. If reporters want an opinion expressed, they should find an expert that voices such an opinion. Man-on-the-street interviews add nothing to a news broadcast, and they should not appear in a hard news broadcast, even in Canada. Period.

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