The fact that it takes me five minutes to locate NBC on my television—despite being a Comcast subscriber in this city for almost four years now—is a testament to just how irrelevant network news is to my daily life. I eventually find the correct channel though, just in time to hear the introduction to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams Lester Holt.
The lead story concerns a threat made Saturday by terrorist group Al Shabaab calling for an attack on Western malls. Holt cuts quickly to Kristen Welker, reporting from the Mall of America in Minnesota, who assures shoppers that traffic at the mall remains steady. We get brief interview snippets with a security guard and a Somali community leader and b-roll footage of shoppers walking through the mall alongside bomb-sniffing dogs. We then get a deeper analysis of the threat through two studio interviews with the Homeland Security Secretary and an NBC Terrorism Analyst.
It’s an informative report that addresses a variety of perspectives. The story also segues neatly into the next segment, allowing a veiled bit of editorializing from Holt: “As malls step up security based on these threats, believe it or not there’s a big fight erupting in Washington over the money to fund homeland security.”
A national weather report follows the DPH story, in which a reporter has the gall to refer to an inch of sleet and 20-degree temperatures in Dallas as “bone-chilling” and a “nightmare.” I’ve never really understand the point of non-localized weather stories, and this one is particularly unfocused, moving swiftly from news of a pile-up in Texas to a roof collapse in New Hampshire to a slushy sled race in Alaska. My disappointment with the segment may not be entirely the fault of NBC though, as this winter has permanently traumatized me to all things forecast-related.
At this point in the broadcast my roommate walks in and tells me he’s going to Chromecast a video he found on reddit, since I’m not watching anything. I actually am watching this, I explain, as part of an assignment to watch the news on television. “Can’t you just find it online?” he asks, confused, then walks out of the room.
A seemingly unnecessary story detailing new research to help kids with peanut allergies is next, but lasts for only 30 seconds. This is followed by an “NBC News Exclusive” with the parents and brother of Kayla Mueller, the young woman recently kidnapped and murdered by ISIS. It’s obviously delicate to interview a sobbing family that’s just lost a daughter, and so I expect the reporter to be non-interrogative. Surprisingly, the interviewer is unafraid to push the envelope, asking the parents if they felt the government did enough to help their daughter and if they believed the rumors that Kayla was forced to marry an ISIS fighter.
The second half of the broadcast is about 60/40 split between commercials and actual stories, and those stories alternate between hard-hitting and not-so-hard-hitting. We get a quick report on a toxic batch of Molly circulating through Wesleyan followed by a commercial break, an illuminating investigation into the need for new technology in 911 call centers followed by a commercial break, then a brief piece on lottery winners followed by a commercial break.
The last few minutes of the broadcast are devoted to recapping the Oscars. I didn’t watch the Oscars last night, but as someone with an Internet connection I was of course receiving second-by-second updates across multiple social media platforms. In the 24 hours between the Oscars and nightly news, I, along with most people of my generation, have digested 1000s of tweets, think pieces, and Facebook posts about the event, and so NBC’s recap feels almost obsolete.
But while NBC Nightly News may not be ideal for breaking the latest entertainment scoop, I did find myself more informed for this rare occasion of network news watching. I appreciated not being able to click away to a related post as soon as a story got boring, and the relatively short length of the segments made it so I was engaged most of the time. While I can read 10 stories on the internet and feel like I still need to read 100 more, the network newscast made me feel as though I had digested a substantial variety of hard and soft news, which in a way left me feeling more content than I ever do after skimming through pieces online.