It was an unspoken horse race among local TV stations: Who would be the first to go high definition in the country's 12th-largest TV market? And WFTS indulged its bragging rights immediately, splashing news of its high definition debut across promotional advertisements and stories within its newscasts…I'm a big HD fan. Things have actually gotten to the point where I have forgotten that other channels on my cable box exist, since I'm perpetually in the "200 level" where all the HD channels live. I watch more stuff on the Mojo channel – where apparently all they do is drink, watch sports and go to concerts – than I do on CNN. (But hey, I get my news fix at work … right?)
Viewable only on HD-capable TV sets, high definition broadcasts offer sharper visual detail and audio, transmitted on a different frequency than old-school, analog broadcasts.
But I'm also a news guy. And with all the sturm und drang over TV news – with both local and national newscasts feeling the profit pinch – I've got to ask: Why do we need HD news? Why don't we pour the bags of cash being used to 'upgrade' newscasts and technology into investigative reporting or additional staff, in order to beef up the news operations of a station?
I can see HD being a value-added for sports. I can see HD being a value added for entertainment. I can't see it being a value-added for quote unquote mature programming. And I definitely don't see it bringing a whole lot of oomph to a newscast. So you can see the pores on the anchor's face. And the "Doppler 5000" graphic is a little crisper. But as for news, it adds nearly nothing. On some occasions, you might be able to make a little more detail in war footage or a crime scene – though most news footage from portable cameras is still in analog format – but is that worth lopping off a news reporter or some producers to do legwork on other stories?
Given the competitive environment of local newscasts, I offer the following advertising campaign idea to America's stations who are considering the upgrade. Make it a point to show off how you're putting your money into news reporting. Put it in your commercials as a sign of pride in your work. Maybe even go so far as to say, "This local crime story happened, and we were there first. [Competing station] wasn't, but they sure looked pretty, didn't they? If you want the day's breaking news, come to us. But if you'd like flashy images, well … you know where to go."
The HD revolution is changing a lot of the way we watch TV, but it's no substitute for traditional reporting and hard-working journalists. Given the financial pressures on America's news departments, they should avoid the temptation to chase a little extra flash.