Gene Cox: No Business for Old Men

By Gene Cox | March 1st, 2014

Seeking the wisdom of elders sounds noble, but our world practices the reverse

Seeking the wisdom of elders sounds noble, but our world practices the reverse

What’s an old man like me doing on television? I mean, really, how many 73-year-old news anchormen are there?

I’m thinking not many, a couple of crusty, old fixtures here or there who are hard to get rid of. Anchor seats, for the most part, are occupied by young men and women who are surrounded by even younger reporters and producers. Television is a young person’s toy, a medium that spends little time and effort on old people.


Critics argue that television ought to target older people because that’s where the money is. That may be true, but older people are less influenced by advertising. Most have already bought what they are going to buy and they are not likely to change their brand of toothpaste or select a predatory lender from the unfortunate growing list of such companies.

Advertisers target young people who are more likely to try something new, or change what they’re using, or be carried away with a low monthly payment even if the total cost is never mentioned. Young people will believe something is really 85 percent off the regular price.

The network evening news is different from most other programming. It caters to older viewers. On the network evening news, there is an average of 14 half-minute commercials per show; at least 10 to 12 will be for products that old people buy for real or perceived physical maladies. Cialis usually advertises on the news, as do other products whose possible side effects include death but – not to worry – it may not happen. The commercials for various forms of snake oil are for older people who have something wrong with them and want to fix it. Want to sell something to an old person? Buy an ad on the network evening news.

While seeking the wisdom of elders sounds noble, the world we’re caught up in now orders just the reverse.

Got an iPhone? Who taught you to use it? A young person, of course. The silicon revolution has created a generation gap where it is the young people who know how things work and will spend time teaching mom and dad if they spend time with them at all.

You’ll find few young people attending the Antiques Roadshow; they couldn’t care less about old stuff. But they will stand in line all night long to get their hands on the latest i-whatever.

Television advertising determines what kind of shows will be aired, and it is always with youth in mind – female youth primarily. Women, even the young ones, ultimately determine how money is spent. A television station may be number one in the ratings, but if the demographics are not favorable, the station is in trouble.


I anchor news each evening because I enjoy doing it and am thankful that WRIC-TV gave me the opportunity. The challenge is finding that happy hunting ground between the wisdom of the ages and young whippersnappers who know more about what’s really going on than I do.

I am at the age when it would be very easy to fall off the edge, to rail against the senselessness of the way things have become, and refer everyone to the way it used to be. But I am still young enough to realize that nobody wants to hear it. There is little future in telling people something they don’t want to hear. I see myself as Holden Caulfield, irreverent in many ways, but prepared to stand at the edge and try to keep the children from falling off.

More than 7,000 people subscribe to my Twitter account. Oddly, the overwhelming majority of them are kids. I find that humbling.

74! Do I hear 74? Not likely, but hey … who knows. If the children will listen to me, I am indeed a lucky fellow.

Gene Cox, former news anchor for WWBT-NBC 12 and now 5:30 p.m. co-anchor of ABC affiliate WRIC-TV8, shares his observations every issue. Join those following Gene on Twitter at @genecoxrva.

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