May 30, 2011

A Glass of Wine and the Evening News

It is 3 weeks from the shortest day of the year, so James and I are spending a bit more time inside this time of year. I've been doing some cooking and we have some unknown fellow-American expats coming for dinner this Thursday and James' bday dinner on Saturday. We've been running our heatpump and filling the fire with wood everyday to stay warm. I’m reading a lot (the classic Gone With the Wind right now) and wondering if I’ll get out the sewing machine. James has projects spread out across our table. It’s nice.

We’ve also installed Free TV. NZ is going digital, so getting the new dish and box to convert our old TV was a soon-to-be necessity anyway. We've gone from about 5 channels to about 12. I was surprised and ecstatic to realize that the American PBS Newshour is on one of those channels at 6:30 pm every night! In my humble opinion, New Zealand news leaves much to be desired. The evening news features about ½ hour of NZ news, about 5 minutes of international news, 20 minutes of sports and 10 minutes of weather. When we watch the evening news, I only watch the first 35 minutes, then get frustrated as coverage turns to regional rugby matches as if there wasn’t a whole world out there to report on. After the news, the two main channels each feature a sort of investigative news show for another half-hour. It is typically an elaboration on a couple of stories already featured in the evening news, going into more detail in a ‘surface’ manner, dramatizing un-dramatic events. I can’t watch them. The world beyond the shores of NZ doesn’t seem to exist in these mainstream news outlets.  Now, after the first 30 mins of NZ news, I can turn to the PBS Newshour for US and international news.

Radio New Zealand (like NPR in America) is quite a big step up from the TV news but if you can only listen for about an hour per day (while getting ready for work in the morning) – it’s essentially the same stories as the evening news. And I find the style of interviewing bizarre. NZ’ers are stereotypically polite and reserved. But some news reporters must get to release all that pent-up frustration. They are overly aggressive – sharply throwing questions at the guests (especially political or business guests), cutting the interviewee off when they trying to answer, then throwing comments and more questions at the interviewee until he or she is generally flustered. It’s truly odd and I have yet to meet someone who can tell me what this style of reporting here is all about. It’s not effective and not at all what I want to hear at 7am. Other than this style of interviewing, I do like Radio NZ news and some other shows.

I know mainstream US news can be pretty darn bad too, maybe even worse with some of the ridiculous bias and Hollywood-ization. But there's easy, quality alternatives. If you try, you can find a huge variety of different national and international news on TV and radio. You can find even more in print, but because I read all day for a living, I want some decent radio or TV news so I can rest my reading-eyes and learn the issues while I cook or walk. So I miss the PBS Newshour and NPR. Big time. I miss hearing news of the USA because it’s my homeland, yes, but I also miss the good, accessible international news coverage too.

James and I listen stream the NPR affiliate in Juneau through the internet regularly. I tend to listen to Morning Edition via NPR’s main webpage every morning while checking my emails (after listening to Radio New Zealand for a bit first). I like this morning routine. But evening news, well, I’m always disappointed – I end up feeling disconnected and uninformed down here at the bottom of the world.

My mom is a bit of a news hound and I grew up with the news on TV – the local and national news, then the PBS Newshour - while mom was cooking dinner each evening. I miss that. Even all through my 20’s and now into my 30’s, lots of visits to stay with my mom mean that I associate 5:30 to 7:00 pm with making a bit of dinner, watching the news, and drinking a glass of wine with mom. I miss that even more.

So now I have the PBS Newshour to turn on while I make dinner and drink my glass of wine – and I know that my mom, and maybe my sisters too, might have done the same thing several hours earlier, during their evening hours in their corners of the world (well, maybe not the sister with 3 children under 5!). Not only do I feel more well-informed, more connected to the world and more in tune with my homeland’s news too but the PBS Newshour theme song takes me straight back to my childhood, straight back to my mom’s living room and I can picture it as clearly as if I were sitting there right now. Actually, mom has had three living rooms in my lifetime that I remember, and the theme song can take me back to each one of them – the furniture, the carpet and walls, the windows, where I would be sitting, and what mom might be cooking for dinner. “Bom-ba-da-da-da-daaaa,da-da-da-ba-dom!” Beyond the appreciated news coverage, it’s fun to have that theme song playing in MY living room now and the familiar news anchors keeping me company. The only problem is it kind of makes me miss ‘home’ and my mom. I’m hoping when I get used to having it here, that feeling will wear off and I’ll build the Newshour into my evening routine. It’s not the same as watching the news with mom, but it is a little piece of home.

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