Guest Columns


Aggravations — thing one and two. Elected officials, TV newscasters beware.

Contributing Columnist

It’s totally embarrassing when someone says, “I read your column, it always makes sense, what are you writing about next?” and I don’t have a new idea in mind. This has happened fairly frequently lately (I must be spending too much time at holiday parties), but I’ve developed two topics as a result of recent experiences. And without channeling the bite of Gene Amole, both are aggravating and difficult to solve. With apologies to Dr. Seuss:

Thing One: The Pitiful Mindset of Elected Officials.

I’ve been attending a series of meetings involving municipalities struggling with a service delivery issue, and I’ve come away appalled at the narrow mindset, the obstinate provinciality and lack of knowledge of the elected officials who will be making important decisions. The first thought, of course, is “How did this person get elected?” The obtuse questions, a demonstrated lack of basic civics and how government functions, the obvious fact they’ve never read their briefing packet, the making up of facts they, and you, know are simply not true are all signs they’re not up to the task at hand.

Because some few citizens pay close attention to how their city or special district is being administered on a local level, these ill-informed and bumbling “public servants” will end up making important decisions, affecting thousands of voters, without taking the time to become genuinely educated on an issue, or talking to their constituents. Imagine a councilperson saying, “I never read email, I don’t have a computer.” My ears ached as my heart stopped.

It’s apparent there’s a renewed need to create “leadership classes” at the local level, sponsored by chambers of commerce and Realtor groups, to seek out and encourage civic-minded local residents to start thinking about giving back to their community by serving on school boards, district boards, or even accepting a local government board appointment. I’m a great admirer of CU-Denver’s School of Public Affairs — this dilemma seems made to order for an outreach effort.

Thing Two: Is Anyone Listening, and If So, Who?

It’s generally accepted that the viewership of local television news is declining. Lots of reasons: an aging population, more “instant” news via social media, competition from cable and satellite, lack of “good” news, and an even longer list of like and dislikes.

I’m saying it’s because of poor grammar and sloppy delivery — that’s what turns me off. For every live shot reporter who starts a standup with “Yeah…” and every live shot reporter who mixes tenses and possessives, “We’re told there is several reasons for this crime…” there’s a viewer saying, “Sheesh” and turning the digital display (the “TV set”) off. And you have to wonder, do all news directors go to bed at 8:30 at night? Or, do senior producers not know the proper use of the English language?

Remember those nights in the 70’s when people threw bricks at their television because they didn’t like Howard Cosell’s comments about the beloved Broncos? Some entrepreneur prospered by selling foam bricks to throw… a bar on South Monaco made it a weekly event by using real bricks.

I’m ready to bring back the bricks. Sadly, I can’t just throw them at a 9Newscast, or Fox 31, or News4, or 7News, because the failing grades at grammar are universal. Were all news anchors as precise and witty as Kyle Clark, or as disciplined as Jim Beneman, local news might be easier to watch. Obviously, I do watch — it’s part of my job, and more likely, part of my DNA.

My next suggestion is to compel those news executives to attend summer school. Then they’ll learn language use that’s correct, and listenable. Their ongoing homework assignment would be to impart what they learn to the twenty-something corps of street reporters.

Pete Webb was an award-winning broadcast journalist himself at KOA (now KCNC) and KMGH. He is the former president of the one-time Colorado Film Commission and the longtime director of two fire districts and former past president of the Special District Assn. of Colorado. Webb is well known for the public affairs work he does through his PR firm.