Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whose News?

Cable television news has changed the way that government and politics works in the US. There is always someone on live television broadcasting the latest "news." No longer are events planned for the daytime hours, Monday through Friday, so that they can be covered on the evening news broadcast. Now every time is news time because all events can be reported on live and in person via satellite.

This has wreaked havoc with the way that the traditional broadcast networks have covered news. There is nothing new to be reported. It was all covered by CNN, Fox, MSNBC or someone else. It has also provided a constant state of transition among those same cable news outlets. They are all trying to create their own niche. They pretend to be filled with integrity and idealism, but in reality they are simply angling for better ratings.

On my satellite television system I get about 10-12 all-news channels (this includes local and business channels). They all have their own specific target.
  • CNN- Tries to be objective in its coverage, but is vilified by right and left as being too partisan in favor of the other guys.
  • MSNBC- Unabashedly liberal in orientation and perspective. Courts the left wing with its programming, reporting and analyses.
  • Fox News- Proclaims itself to be centrist- or at least populist- but is clearly a right leaning outfit.
Each of those networks has a business or financial channel and other outlets. They are all a part of much larger media empires. Apparently, 24 hour news is a great, and profitable, business. The problem is that there is not that much news to cover. In fact, in the last few years more and more non-news stories have become major issues because of this. Every network wants to be first. They want to report the next big story. They are looking for the great ratings. So, we have learned about Casey Anthony, Jaycee Dugard and Octo-mom.

But that is not all. We have lost sight of what is news and what is not. It is now true that many people listen to Talk Radio, or an analysis program on television and assume that they are getting news reporting. In fact, what these programs provide is some one's opinion about what is news, or what we should think about the news.

This came home to me recently when I realized what had happened to the Headline News Network. Headline News is a part of CNN. The idea behind Headline News was that any time of day or night you could get caught up on all the news in 30 minutes. But those days are long past. Now you are more likely to catch an hour of personal financial advice, opinions about the latest tabloid-type scandal or Hollywood gossip.

That is when I realized that the world has changed. Headline News has changed its name. It is now HLN. That does not seem to be a big change, except that HLN markets itself as HLN, News and Views.

Here is my conclusion...

A big part of the divisive, partisan nature of politics in the USA today is because people hear some one's opinion, or analysis of current events, and take it for news. The left sends out its analysts. The right puts its analysts on the air. And before long, no one is listening to news. Everyone is paying attention to analysis. And when we form our opinions based on someone else's opinion, we are standing on a very wobbly foundation. Let's move beyond this partisan period into a time of listening to one another, paying attention to actual news and forming our own opinions.

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