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Boring can be riveting

EXCEPT FOR a free preview of MTV that I once lucked into for a whole week, I have never in my life had cable TV. There’s no morality or anti-pop-culture bias at work; my roommate and I simply decided that if we had cable, we’d do nothing but watch Comedy Central and Adult Swim. So when we recently installed our digital TV converter box (best federal giveaway since government cheese!), we were like Soviet refugees wandering into their first American grocery store. The picture on most channels is shockingly clear. Even more brilliant are the multiple feeds broadcast by some stations. The hands-down winner is KNBC, which is miles ahead of the pack in the analog-to-HD transition.

In addition to its main channel, KNBC offers a channel devoted solely to weather stats and a channel that constantly streams random athletic events (track meets in Barcelona, indoor cycling in Manchester, beach volleyball in Brazil) as well as my favorite: a “raw news feed.”

It’s just a hand-held video camera panning across a bunch of reporters, editors and producers as they decide what to air. (“How much love do we have for that mortgage party story, Gordon?”) Totally boring yet completely fascinating. And sometimes, there’s a guy -- your typical paunchy, middle-aged, white journalist guy -- who simply faces the camera and chats about stories KNBC is tracking. He has some notes, but mostly he talks off the cuff. Somehow it works. He comes off as smart and thoughtful. And unlike news anchors with their slick cadence and forced joviality, he seems real.

I have no illusions this experiment will last. Just as the early days of moviemaking saw close-ups and cutaways soon eclipse one-camera, filmed stage productions, the sheen of “professionalism” will kill all that is authentic and interesting about the cinema verite newsroom. But next to local TV news programs that are like cubic zirconium -- bright, flashy and ultimately worthless -- KNBC’s raw news feed is a diamond in the rough.

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-- Elina Shatkin


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