Friday, November 27, 2009

T.V. News

When I was growing up in the 1970s, there were essentially only 3 T.V. channels from which to choose. You had CBS, NBC, and ABC. At a certain hour, they all stopped showing programs and delivered only a test pattern. It was a whole different world than the hundreds of non-stop channels that most folks have access to today. In many houses, including mine, the familiar family hum and clatter came to a stop so that the grown-ups could watch the evening news. This was one of those non-negotiable deals where the world of color and volume was put on hold at 6:00 p.m. for the areal black and white realm.

In those days, the three trusted icons that looked into our world from sets in New York City were Walter Cronkite - CBS, John Chancellor - NBC, and Harry Reasoner - ABC. These serious men wore serious-looking suits and were positioned in sets that were stark and no nonsense. The news shows were somber programs, reporting on important issues, in difficult times.

Today, the world is still facing serious issues, but the tradition of gathering around the T.V. to watch the evening news is eroding and dissipating. Part of it has to do with the change in the family unit dynamics, the availability of more interesting programming, reduced attention spans, and perhaps to some extent, the invention of the DVR. However, I also feel that the change in our news viewing habits is directly related to the fact that the news shows predominantly focus on the negative. The networks follow in lock step a formulaic and cloying approach to digging up sensational and titillating dirt on everyone they can. It also has to do, I suspect, with the dubious merging of news and political agendas to purposefully distort the broadcasts and mislead.

I have not watched the evening news in years. I keep my finger on the world's pulse from my computer. I check my favorite web sites each morning and evening to keep up. Our computers are interfaces that protect us and buffer us. They allow us to pick and choose what stories we read, which we follow in detail, and which we only skim over. We can tackle each item at our own pace, and if we don't have any interest in what we are reading, the next headline is just a click away.