Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Way It Ain't

Far be it from me to piss on anyone's hagiography, but amid all the misty-eyed remembrances of Uncle Walter, can we examine just how badly we effed up his legacy? Like Cronkite's beloved Apollo Program, early television news was a monument in motion. Never before had the machinery been in place to blanket the globe with real-time data. The immediacy of radio, the precision of print: early television news bristled with potential before it ever left the pad. Best of all, those souls at the top of the stack took their missions seriously. With stentorian voices and natural born gravitas, Cronkite, Murrow and many more forged an exciting new path in intellectual exploration...

But something happened after lift-off. What was a rigid template of factual import morphed into a gelatinous tube of gimmickry and game show faces. Soon the pattern was all too predictable: Breathless headlines, a smattering of hard news, Commercials, super-duper dorked-up weather, Commercials, big board sports!, More Commercials, then back to the studio for a wide shot of toothy lookers snickering over something silly. Not so simply put, we chortled, hyped and adored ourselves into oblivion. From the canned banter to the feigned urgency to the whole crime and grime paradigm, WE FAILED OUR ELDERS. That includes me, of course. The Z-Block fodder I so enjoy producing wouldn't impress Uncle Walter much. He's prefer hard news rife with detail and analysis - you know, the kind of thing you have peel open a newspaper to read.

So where do we set our vectors for now? How about a new frontier of credibility? But we damn well better blast off, for our window of opportunity is fading. See, what used to pass for the voice of God now sounds like so much sorority house blather. Bloated and gloating, there’s not been an industry so ripe for revolution since Kodak dismissed digital cameras as just some passing fad. Viewers are through being led by the avuncular hand. Now the audience can wander around unencumbered, explore hidden new worlds without the need for a narrator's flair. News nerds can cue up that story they missed when the dog soiled the rug - without having to sit through endless teases rife with close-ups and clich├ęs. Best of all, newscast consumers can file a complaint, register a request, or add to the subject matter at hand with wisdom and insight once deemed unworthy of inclusion. The end result: a deeper, more detail-oriented news product - one that boasts the immediacy of moving images, the analysis of long-form print and the interactivity found only in a hyper-linked world. It's a brave new world out there, on that the early explorers of our once great field shudder to recognize.

I too watched Walter Cronkite as a kid and never thought to question him. He's gone now and while the sepia toned memorials are more than deserved, it's the once promising frontier he helped discover that I truly mourn.


Amanda Emily said...

The most telling of how far this business has fallen - the most trusted "anchor" of my generation is a comedian and his variety show.

And even more sadly, in between the skewering and the jokes, 22 minutes of the Daily Show provides more information on world events than six hours of CNN's blowhards screaming at each other.

With newsroom cutbacks and furloughs and ever-increasing hours of news to fill there just isn't enough bodies to do the type of journalism Cronkite espoused anymore.

Though if Michael Copps gets his way, that may be changing. There's a NOI circulating around the halls of the FCC right now. Copps is apparently not happy about the rise of infotainment in place of traditional journalism in the name of public interest and service.

Anonymous said...

Amen to Lenslinger, and to Amanda. Stewart and Colbert are the new Cronkite and Brinkley.

But Walter & Co. liked the Z-block stuff too. It kept Kuralt employed.

FlutePrayer said...

I have never watched a Katie Couric newscast, and couldn't bear the thought of her eulogizing Walter Cronkite. I didn't tune in...