Commentary

When COVID News Is Bad, Hit 'Em With Heartwarming

No one wants to be seen as a COVID-19 Ebenezer Scrooge when reacting to the many heartwarming pandemic-related stories we are seeing lately on our local and national newscasts.

It feels prudent to resist complaining about all of the heart-tugging fare, the majority of which has been shot by amateurs and culled from social-media sites by the newscast producers.

This “method” of news-gathering on the cheap had long been in use on our TV newscasts before the pandemic. Back then, it was a no-brainer for a critic to gripe about it.

Such “stories” often played like filler whose chief attribute was the ease with which they could be collected and then repurposed as “news.” Basically, someone would write a few words for an anchorman or anchorwoman to say to introduce these segments and, voila, a cat was seen dancing to an old Motown song.

Pointing out that these kinds of segments lacked news value was a waste of breath. News producers would likely agree.

At the same time, they would likely defend them as material that provided their audiences with something more cheerful than the sad stories the news shows were already showing them one after the other for the first two-thirds of the newscast.

Here in the era of the pandemic, these kinds of stories are also being used as a counterpoint to the bad news that tends to lead the TV news shows.

These stories that are meant to cheer us all up with what you might call the “lighter side” of a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands, come in a variety of forms.

These include social-distancing birthday celebrations (sometimes featuring neighbors driving by and waving their birthday greetings), kids sending their crayon-drawn thank yous to first responders, earnest teens launching food drives or sewing homemade face masks, crowds applauding doctors and nurses, and feisty oldsters who contracted the novel coronavirus and survived against the odds for their age group. (The screen grab above is from one such story out of Portland, Ore.)

These stories have become as much a part of the pandemic as the wearing of face masks and the cheering and pot-banging sessions that resound down the streets of New York every evening at 7 to honor healthcare workers.

Even the most recalcitrant curmudgeon can acknowledge the utility of such stories. A 104 year-old World War II vet beating the coronavirus is a hopeful story that tells others who might be lacking in hope right now that we can beat this.

There is another reason why these kinds of stories have proliferated over the last few weeks. It is because there are virtually no non-COVID subjects in the news that are worth bothering with right now.

Perhaps the only story that comes closest are these rumors that Kim Jong Un is secretly dead -- a story that is 100% conjectural at this point and lacking in any real facts. 

And so, 99% of our TV newscasts are made up of stories connected to the pandemic. The other 1%? The weather, because there is no sports news at the present time.

There are some who might be feeling as if they have had enough of the sheer tonnage of COVID news, both light-hearted and otherwise, that they are seeing every time they turn on the TV.

Many people lately have been heard expressing that they’re done with news media for now, and that consuming so much news about the pandemic has not only made them irritable, but it has not helped them understand it any better either.

It is also possible to be tired of all the feel-good news about the pandemic too, in which ordinary people (or worse, celebrities) are sharing recipes and handicrafts on social media as ways for people to while away the hours while locked down at home.

But that attitude is too Scrooge-like even for the TV Blog. Better to save the bah-humbugs for something everyone can agree on, like Christmas.

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