Tuesday, December 8, 2009

CBS Evening News (1980)


email said...

You call this news!? It's full of facts, eyewitness accounts and thoughtful commentary. It's organized and coherent, nothing like the "real" news we get today.

Anonymous said...

Tell me about it. Of course, the reason that is has a great deal to do with the type of news climate in which it was created. Back then, the only 24-hour news channel was CNN and hardly anyone was watching it. Most people thought of 24-hour news as a goofy Ted Turner pipe dream, pretty much up until the Gulf War. Then all of a sudden people were glued to CNN around the clock and the idea that such a cable channel could be profitable gave rise to competition. From that point onward, TV news became all about being first on the air with anything, be it rumors, speculation, wild guesses, or interviews with "experts" who knew nothing about the specific situation at hand but could at least be interviewed on the general subject of the story (school shooting, celebrity death, missing person, whatever) in order to fill time. The news also became about focusing on a "hot story" to the exclusion of all other stories. The goal became to beat the other channels to the punch and win the ratings war...which was, of course, the point at which major network evening news programs transformed from a major source of news into ghettoes of tiny sound bites watched only by old or poor people who hadn't sprung for cable or a dish.

The slower-paced, thoughtful reporting we see here took place in a time when NBC, ABC and CBS were still the major sources of news, and while they were competing with each other to be sure, the nature of the competition was different. They were all going to be airing their news programs at the same time for the same length of time, so the true competition when covering a story like John Lennon's murder was in: Who can do the most accurate, careful, thoughtful coverage, not only of the actual murder story but of the effect his death had on people around the world? Who could make the most eloquent summary of what John Lennon and his music meant?

There are some aspects of the coverage that are disturbing, but that probably couldn't be helped. In essence, coverage like this takes a murderer (or accused murderer, at the time) and turns him into an overnight celebrity. All of a sudden pictures of his birthplace, childhood home, school and yearbook pictures are all over the news. It's unfortunate that we can't find a way to cover these horrible events, when they happen, without inadvertently presenting them in a way that guarantees fame to the perpetrators. But, if anything, the way the cable news covers them today has only made that worse, with channels jockeying to be the first with a new tidbit about the life of the alleged killer.

Anyway, this is definitely a window back in time to when TV news was very differently presented from how it is now.

Anonymous said...

"John Lennon: The Dream is Over" ... that's kind an overly depressing title, isn't it?