Jim Carrey
Credit: Corbis Sygma

The battle for local news ratings is reaching new heights — literally. Whether they’re bragging about remote camera shots taken from the tops of mountains or out of souped-up helicopters, your local affiliates are proud of finding fresh ways to get you to tune in.

Helicopter shots have been around for a while, but that isn’t stopping hyper-competitive New York stations from trying to reinvent the propeller. WNBC is now promo-ing its ominous-looking black stealth chopper, suggesting the machine’s mighty news-gathering powers but cagily giving no details. Meanwhile, rival WCBS is trumpeting its copter’s infrared cameras which can tape crimes and other events that happen in total darkness.

Some resourceful news directors are finding even higher altitudes from which to grab a shot — and dazzle viewers: In Denver, KCNC has mounted five “Mountain Cams” at various ski resorts and one on the thruway I-70. So far, the station uses the cams mostly for weather. But it doesn’t take a genius to imagine the footage that could air the afternoon of that icy 25-car pileup on I-70.

Eye-in-the-sky reporting may be a new high in altitude, but is it also a new low in journalism? Could be. “Because stations have these cameras, they feel they have to use them,” says Marcia Rock, Director of Broadcast Journalism at New York University. “And that could be a problem if they run something that looks good from a helicopter rather than something that should be at the top of the news agenda.” Forget the mayoral election. Tonight at 11:00: High-speed chase on I-70!