Rival newsrooms vowing to collaborate, rock steady anchor teams crumbling into dust, Conan O’Brien hosting the Tonight Show! Yes, it’s a frightening time for that glowing box in your living room, let alone the journalists that live inside it. For decades, news viewers could count on their local stations to do one thing exceedingly well: imitate each other. Chrome-plated news desks and promos at the ready, updates slathered in gadgets and delivered by ‘Talent‘, breathless reports laced in mood music, swaddled in Doppler and buzzing with candy-colored choppers. Now, however, all that amalgamation is in flux as tricked-out new tools and a dearth of advertising dollars are doing what those smarmy consultants tried so very hard to avoid… They’re making TV newscasts interesting again.
Notice I said interesting, not viable. Whether or not the rumbling plates underneath the Fourth Estate will thrust the property skyward or just swallow the damn thing whole is still unknown. One thing is for sure, though: it will never be like it was. No, the economy could correct itself overnight and the broadcast landscape would still buckle under the weight of new expectations. Sure, magic laptops and boned-up telephones play a part but all the gizmos in the universe fail in the face of human nature. Take my oldest daughter (Pease - she’s FIFTEEN!). I’ve yet to buy her one of those cell phones that comes with its very own flux capacitator, but that hasn’t stopped her from consuming news the way her better-equipped peers do. Al A Freakin’ Cart.
See, she’s been on-line since around age 3. When she wants to learn about the world she knows the libraries of the globe are just a Google or two away. If a snowstorm hits and the school day is in question, she triangulates texts, Facebook updates and a myriad of Twitters before I can ever stumble out of bed and find the remote control. Not once does she think to simply sit down and wait, to stare at a haughty rectangle in the corner of the room until someone handsome appears and speaks in glib riddles. Why would she - when with the twitch of two freakishly strong thumbs, she can truly spin the globe - without the assistance of any thumping news themes, spasmodic graphics or disembodied pitchmen. To do so would not just be old-school, it would reek of the antique.
So do the tectonic changes my chosen field are experiencing fill me with dread. Naaaah, not really. Not half as much as if we were still just aping our neighbor down the dial. THAT, is the road to extinction.
UPDATE: Friend of the blog and N&R Editor John Robinson weighs in with his own thoughts on the matter as does NewsLab Czar Deborah Potter.