Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some Notes for the Proprietors of the New NBC4 Website

So, our local NBC TV affiliate has a new website. You go to, and now it bounces you to It's busy. It's boxy. It's hip. Reminds me of The Onion site (and that's not really a good thing for a legit news website, guys.) It's hyped frequently with short, hipster TV commercials in the early morning, during the local news. The ads have hipster graphics, with hipster colors, and even some Iggy Pop-ish hipster rhythms backing up the visuals to attract hipster viewers.

"Locals Only" is the catchphrase. But what I saw today on this website wasn't local. It wasn't necessary. And it wasn't, I hope, representative of what passes for journalism with NBC here in DC these days.

I'm annoyed about what I saw. I'm annoyed that what I read is featured on a website for a legitimate news-gathering and dissemination organization. I'm annoyed, frankly, that someone got paid to write this particular piece of dung.

Here's the deal. A few days ago, I read a very sad story on a UK news website about a 77-year-old woman, Joan Cunnane, with a serious hoarding disorder. Cunnane's mania for shopping and collecting was so bad, she had only a 2-foot-wide path to navigate the space in her home. Tragically, pathetically, a stack of suitcases fell on her, and Cunnane, an elderly - and clearly ill - woman died. When her body was discovered, and the enormity of her disorder revealed, her neighbors and friends were shocked.

Hoarding disorders are serious and awful things. My late sister suffered from this - not at the level of the woman who died in England this past week - but still shockingly bad. I got sick from spending hours in my sister's home, trying to sort, toss, and save (when possible) years of smoke-damaged purchases and bags and bags of clothing and jewelry, many items never worn.

It's not a funny situation. It's a sickness that can horribly damage lives.

But don't try to tell that to the "journalist" who wrote this article that is featured on NBC4's website. This lousy piece of journalism trivializes Joan Cunnane's death, and the author, Lauren Crighton, calls the elderly Cunnane "girlfriend."

As in, the urban use of the word girlfriend.

Here's the quote: "According to the Daily Mail, girlfriend owned 300 scarves and literally thousands of trinkets..."

Did she, sistah?

In describing Mrs. Cunnane's home, the article goes to say "This sounds worse than a New York apartment, which is tough to do!"

Read that over a few times and tell me what's wrong with that sentence. Tough to top, maybe. Although that's crap journalism, too. Did anyone edit this?

But wait - it gets better! Crighton writes: "All that said, the Daily Mail's headline describing her as a "Shopaholic Spinster" might make things even worse. I mean, why not just throw an "old maid" in there for good measure? Sigh."

First, it looks like our writer didn't even bother reading the original, legitimate news story. In the opening to her piece - before calling the septuagenerian "girlfriend" - Crighton says Cunnane is "a girl in the UK." I think 77 is a bit past the "girl" stage, but maybe I'm out of touch. And, Lauren, dear? "Spinster" is a legit word for an older, single woman, babycakes. is your friend.



I mean, jeez louise. I use "sigh" out here from time to time, but I'm a cheesy personal blogger. I'm not writing for the web presence of a major news outlet. I'm not representing the news organization of Huntley, Brinkley, John Chancellor, and Tom Brokaw. (That's David Brinkley, by the way, Ms. Crighton, not Christie.)

Here's the capper (or, crapper, as I'm thinking of it.) Crighton wraps up by writing "As a fitting epilogue, the upcoming Confessions of a Shopaholic movie starring Isla Fisher will apparently run with a disclaimer—no doubt about the risks of said shopping behavior."

The link in that line is not mine. That link is featured in the article as it appears on NBC4's website. It leads to a snarky fashion website called which features the tagline "exclusive invites free shit & smack talk." there, cunnane's story is reduced to two snarky, jokey lines of text and a photo of an actress surrounded by shoes:

"A woman in the UK took a one way trip to that great sample sale in the sky when her closet toppled on to her suffocating her in a 3 foot high pile of unopened boxes.

Confessions of a Shopaholic now being released with a disclaimer and a Law and Order style “Ripped from the Headlines” trailer."

Anyone reading it would recognize that the last line (penned by co-founder Daniel Saynt) is a joke. A joke, kids. Yet, it shows up in the NBC story as something real.

That's just bad.

Really bad.

Look, it would be easy to just rip apart the horrible writing (and apparent non-editing) of this piece. But the real issue I have is with NBC4, and NBC's "Local Media" website.

Is this really how a venerable news entity wants to represent itself? I think they should be embarrassed. A little ashamed of themselves. Is there no editorial control? No fact-checking? Should poorly written, blog-like articles like this have a home on a news organization website?

On my worst days, I could pull a better article out of my ass, frankly. And I would make it more accurate. In a week that sees the wonderful, talented writer and editor Magazine Man out of a job, it infuriates me to see crap not only rewarded, but given a wide audience.

I dunno. Maybe the world is just getting more stupid. Maybe this is how Joe the Plumber wants his half-assed news presented. I'd like to think there is more dignity and accuracy out there. If this article is a harbinger of what passes for journalistic integrity and excellence now, I think we're screwed.

Oh hell. Maybe I'm just not cool enough to appreciate the New News Order.

In my book, though, NBC's news division jumped the shark. Their reputation has diminished in my eyes.

I'd love to hear a response from NBC4, but I have a funny feeling that's a Cold Day in Hell moment.

Wait - it's going to be something like 11 degrees here tomorrow morning. And we still have a few days left of DC being under the Bush administration. Maybe I'll get my Cold Day in Hell moment after all.

I remain cranky, but all yours,



Anonymous said...

Great post. I saw the story and it made me so sad. That poor lady had an illness and nobody helped her before she passed away as a result of it. That is a tragedy.

Robin said...

Correction -- or at least in my part of "the hood," as if I live in a "hood," but I had to say it -- I think it'll be more like 7 F degrees tomorrow.

The real story of that 77-year old woman, and then the dissing joke she's turned into? I think I'm going to be sick......... on her behalf. That really IS a tragedy.

As for the site, I suppose I'll have to check it out. I wonder if they believe that their target audience for online news is younger than some of us. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that the next generations are stupider. Sadly, they won't have much chance of getting smarter if the reporting is as you say. Also, a lot of us, um, older people read news online sometimes, too. Even my over 60 years old boyfriend.

Are they at all connected to the television news, or is it a separate entity?
As for the woman, may she rest in peace, and her items, like your sisters, be gone through and taken care of with appropriate sensitivity.

Anonymous said...

Like, omigosh, I am, like so surprised the piece didn't end up with an "Eww nm, girlfriend is OLD" or whatever.

Sad, really. Even worse, I find it horrible that this person got paid to write that.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is any sort of closure on this story, but this sorry tale occurred just down the road from where I am sitting in Manchester (that's UK, not NH) and the local newspapers reported it in a serious and respectful manner. Soemthing obviously got very lost in translation from local to national and then to international.

Our once much vaunted and now limping flagship the BBC has increasingly looked evermore pathetic in it's pursuit of the lowest common denominator (sorry - da yoof audience,respect, keeping it real on da street, know what I mean, man ? Oh dear it's too easy to laugh at the lame but ubiquitious British faux cockney hip hop !People over here really do speak like Ali G...) but nothing quite as bad as this example. Follow my lead and throw away the TV...

Unknown said...

Having also had a relative with the same story - she died of a heart attack in her car but her house that my mother had to clean out the house with the 2 foot paths and the nest on the bed, etc - the particulars of the story bother me but more I agree about the overall direction of the "news". I have never been a Christian Science Monitor but they are going to web only. In an interview on NPR earlier in the week they admitted that they will be moving to shorter pieces, more stories with "voice" (ala bloggers) and reducing their staff (maybe 10%) in the next year. Today my local paper Minneapolis Star and Tribune announced they are moving into Chapter 11. Harder and harder to make money reporting the news and I fear that we will see more and more of this sort of drivel.

* said...

Thanks for writing about this. I don't know/understand why meanness has replaced human decency in our country. I would like to blame it all on the past 8 years, but I think it's more than that. I have to say I can't stand reality shows (even Project Runway--I know, I'm crazy!) because there is no such thing as constructive criticism anymore. It's all about who can make the most concise, meanest comment possible. And somehow, this has become acceptable in our society. We wonder why so many people feel alienated and alone in our society...

Anonymous said...

Our local NBC has done the same thing here. "Locals Only" is a joke. They've basically redone the website, added a bunch of crap and call it news. It's like a scaled down, MTV version of what it once was. To quote my beloved, Morrissey, "to say the least, I'm truly disappointed. Truly, truly, truly."

Anonymous said...

That's really lame. This chick got PAID for that? I agree, you could pull better journalism out of your ass. You have to wonder what the people at NBC are smoking to think this is good.

Anonymous said...


why for no new post?
it's your back, not your fingers
that pains you, you know...