A Response to Koppel on Olbermann, O’Reilly

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Reading Ted Koppel’s piece about the death of real news on television gave me no surprise. Since taking a class on media and politics last year at UVM, I’ve questioned the ability of TV to provide a societally healthy version of news. In that class, we read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book about the danger of TV in American political discourse.

Television, as a medium, is not fit for news. It is too easy to be overly animated and entertaining and forget altogether – if you were trying in the first place – to give the news. Glenn Beck, with his chalkboard and on-air weeping sessions, knows this all too well. TV is a sensational experience, and in news, sensationalism is frowned upon. So there is, of course, an inherent conflict of interests in any TV news. While Koppel is nostalgic for the days when anchors were able to give an unbiased account of events (and maybe they did), I don’t think it was ever possible to give an accurate or full description of events on television.

As Postman says, text is able to present an idea in a linear way, breaking into paragraphs and sentences its ideas and always present for a reader to go back to confirm something for themselves or remember a previous event. These aspects of news are necessary. The linear flow of related but separate ideas is nearly impossible on television.

When I turn on the television, I don’t even attempt to seek a summary of the news. If I turn on the TV for news, I am doing that for the sole purpose of getting breaking stories as they happen. Because of the writing process, newspaper news and online text-based news is not updated immediately, making live television coverage the fastest way to get news. But in this era of analysis and commentary, my television lands more often on HBO and TBS than MSNBC, FOX, or CNN. TV is for entertainment. Trying to make it anything else would be fooling myself.

I think of myself as a good news consumer; I can tell if a story I am reading is biased or seems to be bad journalism, but I know I’m not capable of sorting through all the rapid-fire sensations and psychological cues provided by television news, so I just don’t watch it.


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