Thursday, September 06, 2018

How Shall We Be Judged? Old Media Edition

Chuck Todd has written over 2300 words in his manifesto, It's Time for the Press to Stop Complaining -- And Start Fighting Back, and omitted the most important one: CNN. While there is no disputing the unique role that Fox News has played, the precipitating event came earlier, when CNN introduced the 24-hour news format.

Prior to that innovation, television news was not much of a profit center and so the amount of time devoted to it was limited. That quantity restriction promoted quality. If news would take up only a couple of hours a day, there was only room for the best programming. And the best people. I got my news from ABC -- Frank Reynolds, Ted Koppel, Max Robinson, and Peter Jennings. Prior to the 24-hour news format, if I was watching news on TV, I was watching professionals at their best. I was also watching reporters report on news, often in real-time.

Yes, CNN offered something new. I remember the early days of Crossfire with Braden and Buchanan as particularly good. But let's face it. There aren't 24 hours of news, and with the quantity restriction gone, the quality of the programming suffered. And the quality of the people fell as well. Crossfire's demise shortly after Jon Stewart's 2004 appearance captures this decline well. And if I am watching cable news, I am not watching only professionals at their best. I am also generally not watching reporters report on news. Most of what I am watching is a cacophony of multiple people, many but not all of them obvious partisans, commenting on events, many of which would not have made it on the air in the quantity-restricted era.

So when Todd writes, "The American press corps finds itself on the ropes because it allowed a nearly 50-year campaign of attacks inspired by the chair of Fox News to go unanswered," he's missing an important part of the story. The American news industry started peddling opinion and commentary as news, and now the press corps is dealing with the fallout. It is being judged according to its worst elements. There is no shortcut out of this mess, and the road to redemption certainly isn't to "Fight Back." The way forward is to return to basics -- in this case, reporting facts and events as they happen and airing only the most exemplary of its efforts.

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