It’s official. There are no 24-hour broadcast news channels anymore. They’ve all evolved, or devolved, into all-talk, all-the-time, with more news delivered in the “bites” scrolling across the bottom of the screen than ever pass through the mouths of anchors and commentators, including the few field reporters who make appearances on air.
For a news junkie like me, that’s a harsh realization.
It’s long been apparent that two of the three 24-hour faux news channels weren’t practicing any form of honest-to-goodness journalism or nonpartisan news-gathering. Fox News switched from being a pro-Bush, pro-Iraq war, liberals-are-evil propaganda voice to an anti-Obama, liberals-are-still-evil, well-oiled Republican party propaganda machine. MSNBC, the newest 24-hour faux news channel, began and continues as the anti-Fox, conservatives-are-evil, Obama-isn’t-perfect-but-he’s-better-than-the-other-guys Democratic party propaganda stream.
Now, I’ve officially given up on CNN, the standard bearer, original 24-hour broadcast news channel launched by Ted Turner in 1980, the first all-news channel in the U.S.
CNN began as a reliable source of informative news, and its coverage of the first Gulf War in 1991 made journalism history. But it too has now become all-talk, all-the-time in a race to regain ratings it lost to Fox and MSNBC. CNN presents “news” delivered by an equal mix of partisan commentators, and its own panel of contributors and “chief political correspondents” spend their on-air time recommending what this or that candidate should or must do to regain momentum.
(Who knew all these highly-paid correspondents and anchors were secretly yearning to be presidential campaign managers charged with devising winning tactical campaign strategies? I wonder if the actual campaign mangers listen to and heed their continuous, unsolicited advice?)
Even CNN’s spin-off channel, Headline News, which used to broadcast a half-hour news program on a 24-hour cycle, has now switched to news talk programming. No more quick-peek at the breaking news stories of the day.
CNN (and Fox to a lesser extent) is still a reliable source of up-to-the-minute news coverage for man-made or natural disasters, and with the power of broadcast images it can communicate the destructive effects of events such as floods, hurricanes and tornadoes as no other news source can.
But, absent an epic disaster, CNN’s news programs are now filled with interactive components such as airing Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, and, even worse, asking viewers to text their vote on which news stories should be aired. It’s a talk fest with a few headlines thrown in to justify calling it “news.”
Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has relentlessly skewered CNN for those interactive news features and high-tech gadgetry that frequently falters and adds little, if any, context to the understanding of the news being reported. I understand why Stewart has become so merciless in his criticism of CNN — it has joined the trivialization of news by mimicking its competitors in search of higher ratings. It’s become as fact-less as the other two faux 24-hour news channels.
With most Americans saying they get their news from television, I can’t help but wonder if a genuine, bona fide broadcast news channel could once again succeed if it actually practiced journalism, and harnessed the power of broadcast images to bring information and context to viewers who prefer more facts mixed in with the talk.
There’s so much going on in our nation and around the world that could be reported and isn’t. How is Japan recovering from its devastating earthquake, tsunami and destroyed nuclear power plant? What’s happened since the surprising, spontaneous public demonstrations in Egypt a few months ago? When unemployment insurance runs out for those who lost jobs in the Great Recession, how are they surviving with no job and no income? How about an in-depth report on how other countries fund their delivery of universal health-care and have better outcome results than the U.S.?
No news is not good news for the American public. The decline of journalism, the lack of substantive news-gathering and reporting is contributing to an ill-informed electorate swayed more by partisan spin than knowledge.