Stop Calling Me!

September 2002 - After 14 years in "the business" (as we TV people like to call it), I have learned several things about news viewers. Number one: They believe that the TV station and, therefore, the news department, is there for their own personal benefit. They have no problem calling up to ask for the weather forecast (which we will shortly tell them during our newscast), a high school football score (which we will also report very soon), or even the time. Yes, I really have answered calls from viewers asking what time it is. I am not making this up.

Number two: Many viewers do not understand the difference between the local station and the network. I may work at a CBS affiliate, but Dan Rather does not anchor the news from my station. If the CBS movie of the week is a little too sexy, complaining to me won't do any good. If you want to complain to someone who might actually care, you'll have to pay for a long-distance phone call to New York. CBS does not have a toll-free number.

Number three: Viewers who call with "story ideas" usually have no idea that they don't have a story at all. And, if one of these callers begins by saying that he is not a nitwit and knows what he's talking about, you can bet that he is an absolute loon. Here's a recent example.

The other night, I was sitting at my desk eating dinner. A lovely chef's salad. The phone rang, so I answered. The man on the other end wanted to know if we ever covered "human interest" stories. Well, hopefully, most of our stories are of interest to humans, so I said, "Yes, we cover interesting stories." (By the way, here's number four: When someone inquires about a human interest story, it's usually not very interesting.) The man then assured me that he was not some nitwit (see #3 above). He drove truck.

Encouraged by my silence, he began to tell me about his love of hot dogs. He and the wife, he said, had gone someplace or other to eat. But, it cost $1.29 for a hot dog and that was too much. So, he and the wife went to McDonald's, where he was horrified to find hot dogs selling at the outrageous price of $1.99 each. Since when did McDonald's start serving hot dogs, I thought - but did not say out loud. And, even if McDonald's were serving hot dogs, why on earth would you actually buy one - I also did not say.

Again encouraged by my silence, the man carried on. He knew how much a pack of hot dogs cost. He knew the price of a pack of buns. He knew what it takes to grill a hot dog. And it all certainly didn't add up to $1.99. He was being ripped off, he insisted. And, there was only one thing to do: The next day, at high noon, he planned to picket the McDonald's. Did that sound like something we would cover?

Well, I said, I would put that on our list of things to do. Thank you for calling.