Back in the day when America got its information in the half-hour nightly newscasts on the broadcast networks, newsroom editors had the difficult–but important–job of deciding what stories were of enough importance to warrant some of that precious airtime. Those editors and producers were blessed with a sense of perspective as to what was really important for people to know–and what did not constitute a story worth of national exposure. It’s a sense that their modern day counterparts lack.
We are left to wonder how the CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite would have covered last weekend’s white supremacy “rally” in Washington DC. Twenty-four neo-Nazi’s showed up for the “march on Washington”. They were outnumbered by the hundreds of counter-protesters–while police stood between the two to keep the peace. There may have actually be more members of the media surrounding the two groups than anything else. And yet, that was still the top news story on Saturday–while the video (tightly shot so as not to give the viewers perspective on just how pathetic the turnout was) played on an endless loop on the all news channels.
Of course, all of today’s news organizations were “pot committed”–to use a poker term–to covering this “protest” as a major story because they had been hyping it all week. Predictions called for major clashes between skinheads, African-Americans and illegal aliens in the streets of the nation’s capital. Pundits were demanding the President denounce the event in advance and to tell “his supporters” to stay home. Regardless of the actual turnout on Saturday, this was going to be the “biggest story of the week”.
Now imagine if this same “huge story” had taken place (and probably did numerous times) during the pre-CNN, pre-internet days. Word of the “rally” would have garnered perhaps a 30-second read with a swastika logo used behind the anchor for a little dramatic event–and it would have been presented from the perspective of Washington DC police getting ready for a potential large gathering of neo-Nazis over the weekend. And when nobody showed up, those newsroom editors would have dropped it from their rundown to devote more time to more important stories–or they would have used wide-angle camera shots of the entire scene to show how pathetic it looked so that us viewers could laugh and mock those idiots. It wasn’t that the editors were looking to “cover up racism” or placate a “white viewership”. They realized that 24-morons standing in the street in Washington wasn’t going to have a single bit of impact on the lives of people in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
I understand that the 24-hour news cycle now demands “expanded coverage” of everything–and that in a ratings driven business, “breaking news” that happened 24-hours ago is believed to spur viewership. But you have to ask yourself, with more information available at our fingertips than ever before, are we actually better informed?