Very interesting column from Plain Dealer TV critic Michael Dawidziak today on the perils of 24-hour television news and the whirlwind news cycle:
- Perhaps Shakespeare, writing 400 years ago, somehow envisioned the era of 24-hour news channels when he coined that line about “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It could be the motto for what passes for discussion and commentary on the crowded television landscape these days.
We get plenty of sound and fury, all right. Janet Jackson barely had completed her Super Bowl flash dance when television’s jabber-happy pundit machine hit full roar.
Behind the puffed-up punditry, however, you almost could hear the giggle of delight.
….the chatter was incessant from Super Bowl Sunday night until the next Tuesday morning. By then, many Americans were weary of hearing about how they were supposed to be so piqued by the peep show.
And that’s the problem, say experts who have watched the state of public discourse sink with the rise of 24-hour news cycles. Moments such as the Jackson halftime stunt instantly are blown out of proportion, then, having been accorded such prominence, are relentlessly pounded into the pop-culture ground by cable news channels, network newscasts and syndicated shows desperate to grab viewers and fill air time.
A national discussion that might have developed over weeks in the pre-cable world now runs its course in a day or two.
No argument about any of that. I am surprised, though, that Dawidziak doesn’t ever mention the role of the Internet in this process. News sites and blogs are also looking for the hot story and profiting from tempests – either the real or teapot variety – and like 24-hour news, the premium is on getting the story early, then beating it very quickly to death.
But the Internet also affords the “space” to supplement the news with background, various perspectives, discourse, and even technical data where applicable.
- Before the Super Bowl week was out, these pundits had moved on to President Bush’s National Guard record, John Kerry’s stance on gay marriages, the Martha Stewart trial or some other issue of the moment.
They’re talking, but are they saying anything?
“The answer is an unequivocal no,” said Linda Ellerbee, the former network news correspondent who now produces documentaries for such cable channels as Nickelodeon and Trio. “It is all sound and fury. The rise of punditry and the 24-hour news cycle has created a news environment in which there’s absolutely no chance for a conversation of substance to take place.”
An Emmy-winning journalist, Ellerbee has been giving the subject much thought of late. She produced and served as host for “Feeding the Beast: The 24-Hour News Revolution,” a documentary airing on Trio, a channel carried on the digital tiers of some area cable systems.
….”They’re not making it up,” Ellerbee said during a telephone interview. “But they will take a smaller story and elevate it because they have 24 hours to fill. And you must understand this is not done with malice. These are journalists with good intentions, but we’ve become a country that feeds off celebrity news, trials, murder cases and scandals.”
And it’s not just cable news channels such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC serving up the journalistic equivalent of fast food. Tabloidization “has infiltrated everything,” Ellerbee said, “creeping into” the network newscasts and prime-time magazines, as well.
Surely your not talking about the local news in Cleveland? My favorite part is using the local news shows to promote network entertainment shows with interviews, “exclusive” behind the scenes peeks, etc. Call it what you want, but it isn’t “news.”
- The need to fill 24-hour cycles creates the yak factor. The intense competition for viewers pumps up the volume.
“Everyone wants to be the show that creates buzz by being the topic of conversation at the water cooler,” Turow said.
“The intrusion into the editorial content of news programs is that the 24-hour cycle has created news in the name of buzz. It has speeded up the me-too-watch-me mentality. It has caused people to scream a lot more to get noticed.”
Particularly disturbing for Ellerbee is the pundit shouting matches that have replaced debate and discussion on news programs. Here, she says, the sound and fury reach a nonsensical peak.
Certainly there is plenty of confrontation and noise, but I think both Dawidziak and Ellerbee miss something important: I think the total amount of hard news and genuine analysis that comes across the tube is greater than it has ever been. It’s just with 24 hours to fill for the cable channels, and all those news magazine shows on the networks, there is also an awful lot of repetition, padding, filler, nonsense, bloviation, and nonsensical chatter – just like the Internet. In a sense it’s an embarrassment of riches, but it can also be pretty embarrassing.