Forrest Carr

Indie Author Forrest Carr

"Messages" excerpt
"Wait a minute.  You knew about this story this morning?"

"Well, yes, and we decided –"

Boyd cast Austin a look of extreme annoyance.  "Then why the hell didn't you get off your dead asses and do something about it then?
Austin's head now felt so close to exploding that he had to resist an urge to warn Boyd to stand back, lest he be covered with gore.  Momentarily, he pictured what Boyd might look like with bits of shredded flesh, clumps of blood-matted hair, tiny fragments of skull, and small grey globs of brain matter sliding down his face, marking Boyd's irritating holier-than-thou expression with glistening crimson snail trails.  The image was so vivid, and the imagined look of utter astonishment on Boyd's bespattered face was so comical, that Austin had to summon a mighty effort of will to keep from giggling.  "Sorry, Dick," he said, one cheek slightly trembling as he struggled to keep a straight face and maintain an even tone, "but we all thought it would be rank sensationalism to cover such a story."

Boyd's face was now turning a deep shade of red.  Austin braced himself for a verbal assault.  But instead, Boyd took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair, and propped his boots up on the desk.  "All right," he said.  "I suppose it's my fault.  I haven't had a chance yet to sit down and talk with you, Earl, and Regina, and explain the facts of TV life to you."

Oh, joy and rapture
, Austin thought, his head pounding.  A Boyd lecture.  Just what I was hoping for right now.  Still, he had to admit it was better than a reaming.  He relaxed against the doorframe.

"The problem with this station's editorial team," Boyd was saying, "is that you don't really assess your daily assignments from the standpoint of ratings.  Instead, you tend to plan the coverage according to what stories you think are most 'important' to the audience.  Journalistically, that's commendable.  But we're in television.  That kind of strategy won't work for us.  We have to learn to think differently."

Austin nodded.  "'Just say no to journalism,'" he thought.  What a crock.

"The fact is," Boyd explained, "the TV news audience doesn't always care about what's important.  It does, however, care about what's interesting.  Austin, do you have any idea what makes an audience watch television news?"

Austin did have his own theories, of course, about the various drivers of TV news viewership – not the least of which was the news consumer's simple desire to find out what's going on in the neighborhood, city, state, nation, hemisphere, world, galaxy, and universe.  But obviously, the question was rhetorical, and no answer was required or wanted.  Austin shook his head – gently, to keep his nitroglycerin brain from sloshing around in his throbbing skull.

"Well, it boils down to three factors:  weather, sex, and violence.  We do an okay job with the weather, although we're going to get better.  But my observation over the last few days is that the stories this team puts on the air just aren't vaginal enough."

Austin looked at him blankly.

"Every newscast recipe needs its daily tidbit of titillation," Boyd continued.  "A sprinkle of scandal.  A dash of danger.  A pinch of the prurient.  If you don't sex it up at least a little, people won't watch."

"But if you do," Austin pointed out, "they complain."

"That's only if you throw it in their faces.  The key is in the packaging.  Take this chicken story – if you were to lead your newscast with it, obviously that would be rank sensationalism just as you said, and the switchboard would light up.  But if you put it lower down, say the B-block, it doesn't look like you're taking it so seriously.  Meanwhile, you tease the hell out of it in advance.  That's the ticket.  We get the story on, the ratings pop, and it doesn't look like we're salivating all over ourselves in the process.  Understand what I'm saying?"

Austin nodded.  "Okay," he said dubiously.  "That still leaves us with a practical problem, though.  All of our crews have been assigned, and they're out on stories."

Boyd took his feet off the desktop and sat up.  "Don't bother me with the details.  Just get the story."  He turned his attention back to the paperwork on his desk.

Obviously, Austin had been dismissed.  "Yes, sir," he said.

Austin went straight to Regina's office.  He knocked on the open door and went in.

"What the hell do you want?" she demanded, scowling up at him from her desk.

"Regina, I need your help."  He laid out the issues with the story Delbert wanted to cover.

"And you explained all this to Dick?" she asked.


"And what did he say?:
Austin locked eyes with her.  "He said our stories need more vagina."

Regina recoiled as if Austin had poked her with a sharp stick.  "He said what?"
        Austin held his hand up.  "As God is my judge.  That was the word he used."

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