But Didn’t You Say You Had Breaking News?

By Mark Joyella 

Okay, I’ll be the bad guy for a moment. I think it’s time we stopped doing these on-air proposals and hey-look-at-me stunts. Like cupcake stores, we may have reached the limit.

Just last week two very lovely news anchors at KRON in San Francisco, Justine Waldman and Grant Lodes (they’re married) announced they will soon be having a baby. Awesome, guys–congrats! But here’s the thing. We got the great news during, well, the news. After teasing viewers that there was an “exclusive and developing story” coming at the end of the 8 p.m. newscast, the segment opened with a full screen DEVELOPING STORY graphic and stinger. Lodes, KRON’s breaking news anchor, then told viewers “now to a developing story we’ve been following–KRON 4’s Justine Waldman is pregnant.”

Wait, what?

Within seconds, we got to see a “new picture just into the KRON 4 newsroom”–an ultrasound image of the baby due in November. I’m a Dad. And I’m on Facebook. I’ve seen plenty of ultrasounds. But this just made me uncomfortable. Again, I think this is fantastic for Justine and Grant, but here’s the thing: I can’t do this anymore.

I’ve seen more than my share of surprise on-air proposals, and each and every time I cringe and wish it wasn’t happening. It’s not that I hate love, marriage, or even elaborate proposals. I don’t. Throw one at me during a basketball game and I’m the first one to stand and cheer. I proposed in a restaurant, so I’m hardly suggesting this kind of thing should be done exclusively behind closed doors.

It’s just the live-on-TV-in-a-newscast part. That’s where I’m wishing we could just stop.

Sure, not every newscast is serious and newsy every minute of every day. (Have you seen Good Day New York?) But when we say something is Breaking News or a Developing Exclusive Breaking Story, we essentially set up viewers to feel confused. It’s that moment of, oh wait. This isn’t actually news this is something else (again, it’s for Justine and Grant, it’s the BEST THING EVER, obviously), and that makes uncaring love haters like myself feel queasy. I was watching the news and now I’m seeing the anchor’s ultrasound and why didn’t somebody tell me this was going to happen so I could be ready?

If I haven’t mentioned this already, I’m a huge fan of both Justine and Grant and think they will be amazing parents. And their announcement was both cute and clever. Take the whole thing–including the DEVELOPING NEWS animation–and put it on the KRON Facebook page, and I think you’ve got a home run. After all, who doesn’t like new baby news?

But that’s the thing: this wasn’t news. So let me be the bad guy with no sense of humor who thumps his fist on the desk and says we’ve got to try as best we can to keep the news in the newscast. (Who’s with me? Anybody?) I know. I sound like a journalism professor who wishes we still had Cronkite on the desk and three networks.

I don’t hate fluff or features. In fact, I’ve done my share of silly on TV. (I used to be on Good Day New York, okay?) But I think those moments when we can lighten up shouldn’t come after a setup that suggests we’re about to do news. It’s about that deal we make with viewers: we’ll show you what to expect from us. And I think we can all agree when we say Breaking News, we ought to give them some.

It’s like those terrific stories of returning soldiers surprising their kids. I go into full-on sap mode for that stuff. But those moments work best when you let viewers in on the surprise. Tell me we’re about to see a Dad who’s been away in Afghanistan for a year surprise his five year old son who has no idea, I’m going to love the experience of watching it happen–watching the child’s face, waiting for that moment when he realizes his Dad is home.

If you tell me I’m going to see a story about a soldier reading a book to kids in local school, I’m not invested. When the Dad reveals himself and hugs his son, I’m going to be confused for a moment. I’m going to miss the magic.

So guys. Keep getting married. And keep having kids. It’s the best thing on Earth, trust me. But if you want me there when you propose, or when you let everyone know you’re pregnant—tell me you’ve got a big surprise for me. Don’t tell me you’ve got breaking news.