Scott Harris loved to talk about news.
And not just on the air. Everywhere.
Years ago, when Central Florida News 13 used to be located across the street from the Sentinel, the cable station's founding anchor often would come wandering through the Sentinel's newsroom.
He simply wanted to talk about the issues of the day. Who made them happen? What were the consequences? Who should be held accountable if things went wrong?
Sometimes he'd call up just to ask if I'd heard anything he hadn't.
And the guy seemed to know as much about the space program as some who have gone up in the shuttle.
Scott Harris was a newsman's newsman.
And Central Florida was better for it.
That's one reason so many people are lamenting the passing of this humble, knowledgeable and even-handed journalist who lost a battle with cancer Monday at the age of 64.
But his passing also symbolizes the end of an era, as today's TV "news" is often anything but.
Today's 11 o'clock news often kicks off with reports of car crashes and routine crimes, breathlessly reported "LIVE" and "on the scene" hours after anything live actually happened. They are followed by "team coverage" of legal minutiae in the now-concluded Casey Anthony case. And don't forget the latest sexy-teacher-seduces-student scandal … even if it's out of Sarasota.
"BODY FOUND IN PARKING LOT" screamed the lead story on one station Monday night.
Such stories may shock. But rarely do they have any meaningful effect on anyone other than those directly involved.
Unless you also talk about the big-picture challenges facing law-enforcement.
Unless you talk about the value of community policing — and its costs.
Unless you also talk about the elected officials who decide how to spend money on law enforcement — and unless you highlight those decisions during election campaigns.
Sure, TV will cover the pants off a flooded subdivision when neighbors in undershirts and nightgowns are lamenting the loss of wedding albums and missing pets. But where were the cameras when the new development that caused the flooding was first pitched and local watchdogs were objecting?
Scott loved to talk about those issues.
Unfortunately, there's not as much of a place for a Scott Harris in today's local TV news. As it turned out, there wasn't even a permanent place for him at CFN-13. He left the station in March before he was very sick but also before he was ready.
I don't blame just the news bosses for so often choosing titillation over substance. Data show viewers are more prone to watch the former than the latter. The Sentinel's own website often reflects similar reader trends.
It's why you get fewer stories about schools, social justice and wrongful convictions, and more video from the latest tutu-wearing dog on YouTube.
There are still quality pieces of journalism on local TV — places where thinking and conscientious viewers can get more than 30 seconds worth of information about how the Legislature's latest vote will affect their freedom or their wallets.
But there aren't as many as there should be. And that's a shame.
Because there will always be pretty faces to read scripts. But there aren't as many guys like Harris, who like talking about problems so we can fix them … and not just spotlighting them for entertainment's sake.
For more information about funeral services for Harris — and a discussion of some local TV folks who truly are making a difference — check out orlandosentinel.com/takingnames.
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