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Tue April 23, 2013
JMD on the 24-hour news cycle
I felt a certain guilt in watching the search for the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers: I enjoyed it.
Obviously, I wish the terrible event had never happened. But dreadful things do happen with unsettling regularity in our world. And when they do, being a child of the TV generation, I am still drawn to the unpredictable, free-flowing coverage of live TV; can’t turn it off:
Sometimes, the coverage is more satisfying than others. The aftermath of the unspeakably horrible murders of small children and teachers in Connecticut last December was simply sad: No mystery, no grainy photos of suspects, no manhunt, just the sickening reality of what had happened. But in Boston, the sadness of the useless deaths was partly redeemed by triumph – the inspiring work of the police in finding the two brothers, climaxing with the capture seen by the entire country on live TV.
It’s fashionable to criticize the “24-hour news cycle,” and not without good reason. We’ve seen cable TV news go wall-to-wall with coverage of events like the 2007 death of Anna Nicole Smith, “famous for being famous,” whose life had become the proverbial train wreck, acted out in full view of the public:
Then there’s the sense that the cable news channels are constantly churning the news mix, keeping the news-consuming public in a constant state of agitation.
The capture of the second bombing suspect gave CNN the opportunity to redeem itself for an embarrassing misfire two days before, as satirized by Jon Stewart:
Jon’s a clever lad, but he’s on the air five hours a week. CNN is on the air 168 hours per week; mistakes will be made.
My late friend Eddie Barker, who virtually invented local TV news at Channel 4 in Dallas and played a huge role in the first major live TV news event, the John F. Kennedy assassination, criticized cable TV news and the 24-hour news cycle in a book we wrote together years ago. Eddie imagined an unlikely alternative: “Whenever something big happens, a light on your TV screen would appear, and that would signal that big news was breaking.” That’s not very practical, but we do have the countless news websites today, waiting unobtrusively to be called upon whenever big news happens.
Still, I’m glad that CNN, and Headline News, and Fox News, and MSNBC are there, cranking out the news 24 hours a day, even when there’s not a lot of news to report. When there is major news, nothing can match the genuine drama they deliver.