The advent of all-news radio and CNN expanded nonstop coverage beyond the news agencies. Network reporters at the White House, for example, once concentrated on a piece for the evening newscast. They had time to think through issues, line up sources, and frame questions. Today correspondents are far more rushed, as they have an increasing number of stories to cover, with less assistance and less time.
Consider a day in the life of NBC reporter Chuck Todd before he became the host of “Meet the Press”:
Todd began his day by scanning newspapers and other competitors to orient himself to what was going on in the world. Then he wrote an item for the NBC blog “First Read.” Next, he appeared live on NBC “Today” or MSNBC “Morning Joe.” On a heavy news day, he made more than a dozen stand-up reports from Pebble Beach. In addition, he added three to five blog entries during the day and posted as many as a dozen tweets or Facebook status updates. In addition, Todd hosted the one-hour newscast “The Daily Run-Down.”
The work Todd did was important, and the adrenaline rush he experienced through his busy day was exciting. But Todd, like reporters everywhere, acknowledged that the pressure to produce quantity diminished the opportunity for fresh reporting, for turning up news angles, and for developing good stories that end up untold. He used a smartphone to scour sources for news stories, knowing, as all reporters do, that texting is hardly a substitute for a substantive sit-down interview.
More is Less. Chuck Todd of NBC News, like reporters everywhere, recognizes that the economic pressure to generate more content takes a toll on original, substantive reporting. Todd leans on his smartphone for quick questions to his White House sources and quick stories than he would like. Nothing wrong with quickness and efficiency, but there is a toll on thoughtful, reflective reporting, which is hard to do when reporters are always on the run.
Not only are reporters pressed to produce more stories for 24/7 news cycles, tighter news budgets in recent years mean that fewer news reporters are doing the work.
Quality erosion shows up in small ways. Reporters shudder at their typos making it online because fewer editors are assigned to check copy. At the Baltimore Sun, Bill Salganik, the president of the Newspaper Guild, which represents reporters as a collective-bargaining agent, says the pressures make more mistakes inevitable: “How do we maintain ethical and journalistic standards?”
In short, nonstop coverage, whatever the advantage of keeping people on top of breaking events, has shortcomings—a lack of originality, the potential for error, and the creation of news where none may exist.
6.6.3 Live News 1. Objective: Characterize the practice of live news coverage
Over the past 150 years in the United States, standard and accepted practices have evolved in news. These practices taught in journalism schools and institutionalized in codes of ethics guide reporters and editors in preparing their summaries and wrap-ups. In general, the traditional practices worked well when newspapers were the dominant news medium, and they worked well in broadcasting too—until the advent of highly portable, lightweight equipment that enabled broadcasters to report news events live, bypassing the traditional editing process, such as having all product reviewed by a copy editor prior to publication or on-air delivery.
Diminished Gatekeeping With television cameras focused on the towers of the World Trade Center as they turned into infernos in the 2001 terrorist attack, trapped people began jumping from windows hundreds of feet above ground. The plunges were desperate and fatal, and audiences viewing the scene live were shocked and horrified. Neither the video nor still photographs were included in the majority of later newscasts. Whatever the virtues of live coverage, a significant downside is that the coverage is raw. Nobody is exercising judgment in deciding what to organize and how to present the material. In other words, there is no gatekeeper.
Live coverage, of course, can be interrupted by reporters and anchors to insert background and context, and it can be turned off. Even so, for better or worse, the role for news media as gatekeepers is lessened.
Lost Time for Audience Following live coverage is time-consuming for the audience. Compare, for example, the efficiency of reading or listening to a 60-second report on a congressional hearing versus watching the whole 4-hour session live. With high drama exceptions like Super Bowl games, exciting police car chases down a California freeway, or sensational murder trials, news audiences prefer to have news summarized and packaged.
News-Gathering Unveiled Before live coverage, journalists most often complete their interviewing and observing and then sit down and organize their material. Live coverage has changed this traditional approach, though. Today, the audience is witness to every step of the journalistic process, even the least professional and polished ones. An interviewer, for example, is as on-stage as an interviewee. Fumbled questions, defective mics, and uncontrollable events (such as a wind-swept reporter, or an unruly crowd vying camera time) are on display as well.
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