When soft news squeezes out the hard

[Via the New York Times, why there's no point in watching network news:][1]_Inevitably, hard news gets squeezed by the soft. For the week of Feb. 5-9, ABC and NBC each devoted a total of 14 minutes to the Iraq war, according to the Tyndall Report, a newsletter that tracks the three evening newscasts. CBS's total for the week was 5 minutes._Five minutes for the week. That means an average of one minute a night.I'm not a hard-ass purist. I think the news should involve a lot of things that aren't necessarily "hard news." Your life probably isn't all hard news -- yeah, you think about Iraq, but you also think about how to pay bills and what movie you want to see this weekend.Still: One minute a night.Given that a newscast is 22 minutes long (once you take the commercials out of the half-hour), what that means is CBS is devoting less than 5 percent of its precious newshole covering _the most important story of the day._This might be acceptable if CBS was some local outfit. But the newscast is helping set, for better or (more likely) worse, the national news agenda.Put it this way: I'm reading the book ["Fiasco" by Thomas Ricks][2], a fairly devastating critique of the planning and execution of the Iraq War, one chapter every night. Last night I spent an hour reading Chapter 6.An hour, informing myself about Iraq. CBS, according to Tyndall, probably gave me only one-sixtieth that effort.You've probably spent twice as much time reading about Iraq today, in the course of your Web surfing, as CBS gave you.It's hard for TV news to really be about the news, but it can be when it wants to. CBS isn't even trying. [1]: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/14/arts/television/14watc.html?_r=1&oref=slogin [2]: http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9781594201035-2


15 years, 5 months ago

"CBS is devoting less than 5 percent of its precious newshole covering the most important story of the day."

Except that it was the most important story yesterday, and the day before, and for each of the last 1000 days. At what point does talking about Iraq cease to add any more useful information*? And did even the 5 minutes CBS spent talking about it actually add any value to the knowledge of the average viewer?

Frankly, I think the day-to-day machinations in Iraq are about the least important story of the day, because nothing of substance is occurring - by that I mean nothing unique that will mold events in the future. When we look back in 5 or 10 years, what happened today will likely not even be talked about; there will be fewer than a dozen truly important events, the last of which likely will be our troops being airlifted off our new embassy.

  • I think that point was well over a year ago, maybe two.

Joel 15 years, 5 months ago

Except, Bill, that today's news is exactly that: Today's news. It serves a different function than a history book, which gives the big overarching flow of things.

Besides, there's plenty happening that could mold the future:

¢ The Congress is debating the surge. ¢ The Bush Administration is linking Iran to Iraqi insurgents, which could serve to widen the war.

And that's just today.

Besides, the day-to-day machinations don't exist in a vacuum ... they comprise the stuff of the big events that we will be talking about.

Forest vs. Trees argument, huh?

15 years, 5 months ago

"Forest vs. Trees argument, huh?"

Perhaps, but what is the marginal (eek! he's talking economics) value of today in Iraq vs today in other, perhaps smaller stories? Evolution returns to Kansas. Al Franken running for the Senate. A big snowstorm in the northeast. The revelation that Anne Frank's family tried to get into the US. All these things are arguably less important than Iraq but they are undoubtedly more timely, because they will exist today but probably not tomorrow. Iraq is more important than evolution, but is what happened today in and around Iraq, as opposed to what will happen (literally) tomorrow there marginally more important than what happened today with the KSBOE that will not get mentioned tomorrow?

I don't know. Perhaps it is. I will admit that I personally don't follow Iraq day-to-day, not because I don't think it's important (I think it will turn out to have a tremendous effect on how America views itself and its place in the world for a generation) but because I think the truly important stuff is not the trees, but when and how we come out of this forest.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 15 years, 5 months ago

Joel, I'm ashamed of you. Bitching about the war not getting enough news during a period when the nation was in grave mourning after losing our shining star, our most talented entertainer, our most generous soul---Anna Nicole. How dare you?

Chris Tackett 15 years, 5 months ago


thought you'd enjoy these additional numbers to support your point:


"NBC's Nightly News devoted 14 seconds to Iraq compared to 3 minutes and 13 seconds to Anna Nicole. CNN referenced Anna Nicole 522% more frequently than it did Iraq. MSNBC was even worse - 708% more references to Anna Nicole than Iraq."

Joel 15 years, 5 months ago

Mike: Thanks for the warning. My factoid was narrowed to a discussion of Iraq, without any corresponding evidence about what was in those newscasts instead of Iraq.

Chris' numbers about Anna Nicole Smith, I think, answers that particular question.

Though Bill raises a good point, which is: Only retired people watch the network nightly news anymore. Thanks to cable and commuting, there's not much reason (or even convenient time) to sit down at 5:30 p.m. anymore. From that standpoint, maybe Katie Couric et al are taking the right approach.

April Fleming 15 years, 5 months ago

So you're saying you don't love Anna Nicole?

CafeSiren 15 years, 5 months ago

Maybe if Jalal Talabani got giant implants and married an nonogenarian billionaire...

Joel 15 years, 5 months ago

I want to know what Bill thinks about the value of Anna Nicole in the news, with reference to Chris's stats.

In economic terms, of course. ; )

Mike Blur 15 years, 5 months ago

"One minute a night." Eh Joel, that's right?

The nightly news only covers one minute of "hard news" each night?

That's what many people would glean from reading your blog here, Joel. Of course, there's more "hard news" covered in the newscasts than "one minute a night."

Be careful, Joel. You're dangerously close to adopting the reactionary method used by thousands of neoconservatives in the blogosphere. That is, taking one factoid from a news article, amplifying it --sheesh, you gave the phrase "one minute a night" its very own paragraph! -- and bemoaning, bewailing, and bloviating on it to make some nebulous point.

Be careful, Joel. You've been alright up until now.

In addition, Alessandra Stanley, the author of the NY Times Article linked at the start of your blog, lost nearly all credibility with me when in that same article she calls Campbell Brown one of NBC's "best reporters."

Check out this link from last summer when Ms. Brown interviewed valedictorian and future Fox News on-air sexpot Brittany McCool on her proselytizing speech to her classmates.

Users must use Internet Exploiter to access the video. The segment is six minutes long, and it does gets excruciating toward the end, but I cite it as a rebuttal to anyone, Alessandra Stanley included, who thinks Campbell Brown is a credible reporter. Campbell nearly gives Brittany a "you go girl!" high five toward the end of the interview! (Doubtless they shared a big sister-little sister embrace after the cameras turned off.)

Mike Blur 15 years, 5 months ago

I knew that link wouldn't show up right.

Here's the easily-clickable link to the Campbell Brown/Brittany McCool snugglefest:


Hope THAT one works.

MyName 15 years, 5 months ago

What bothers me most about TV news isn't the amount of relative time they spend (or don't spend) on hard news, and if you want to quibble, you could say that CNN and Fox probably offer more coverage on Iraq than CBS could in a single broadcast anyways. What really annoys me is the fact that I actually end up feeling less informed after watching a newscast, or a half hour of cable news, or what have you than if I had read a newspaper (or heaven forbid, a book!). TV News has been and probably always will be geared towards the lowest common denominator, with very few exceptions. The format for TV news, cable or otherwise, is geared toward getting that pretty picture up and keeping people from skipping channels.

If you take away the swirling graphics, the opinion polls, the teaser stories and the stock footage of "Habib, the Extremist" with his AK-47, you're left with maybe a minute of actual information, most of which is either inaccurate, or so vague as to be completely useless. IM(NS)HO, I think the less time the TV News channels spend covering the important issues of the day, the better informed the American people actually become.

15 years, 5 months ago

"I want to know what Bill thinks about the value of Anna Nicole in the news, with reference to Chris's stats."

I don't think about the value, which is why I was on very dangerous ground in arguing with you. I don't watch network news, and until she died had very little idea who Anna Nicole was. I knew she had married a rich guy (read about the supreme court case) but I had no idea she had a TV show. So I certainly don't want my defense of ignoring Iraq to be a defense of what CBS is showing. I'm inclined to agree with Cafferty, though I'm not sure I could ever say what he said: http://elborak.blogspot.com/2007/02/but-shes-got-nothing-on-francisco.html

But be that as it may, give it a few weeks and Iraq will still be there - and relatively unchanged - and Anna Nicole will have quietly faded away except for the legal battle royal about who's her baby daddy (what are we up to now? 5 participants? A few more and we can have a pay-per-view). Anna Nicole, if not news, is certainly "today's".

Gareth Skarka 15 years, 5 months ago

The problem is that Ronald Reagan removed the stipulation that broadcasters had to "act in the public interest" in 1987. It was changed that the market should dictate broadcast content, which has led to the tabloid-ification of our journalism in the effort to put "asses in seats" for corporate advertising.

15 years, 5 months ago

"which has led to the tabloid-ification of our journalism in the effort to put "asses in seats" for corporate advertising...."

Except that network news viewership has been falling since before then and not only compared to alternatives (CNN, Fox) but overall as a % of adults:

"Between November 2004 and November 2005, ratings for the nightly news fell 6% and share fell 3%. That is an acceleration of the pace of decline in recent years. It translates into overall viewership on the three commercial nightly newscasts of 27 million viewers, or a decline of some 1.8 million viewers from November 2004. From the start of CNN in 1980, nightly news viewership for the Big Three networks has fallen by some 25 million, or 48%." http://www.stateofthenewsmedia.org/2006/narrative_networktv_audience.asp?cat=3&media=5

Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans watch nightly news, so if the purpose of modern news is to put asses in the seats they are doing a very poor job of it (unless by definition people who watch nightly news are...oh, never mind).

I think the issue (I won't call it a problem) is far more complicated than simply a tweak of broadcasting law, and I really doubt that Ronald Reagan (pbh) can be credited with killing off the American tradition of watching network news.

MyName 15 years, 5 months ago

In defense of Joel, he was talking about Iraq, I was the one who thinks that most TV News offers less than one hour of useful information for hour of news show. It may be an entirely subjective opinion, but it could also explain why TV News is losing the 18-29 demographic to the Internet.

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