News & Criticism

But Other Than That, Mrs. Kennedy, How Did You Like the News Coverage?

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Reason Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin's full-time gig is being the TV critic for the Miami Herald. He's just written an excellent piece about how the 24/4 coverage of the Kennedy assassination changed broadcast news forever and gave "a glimpse 35 years into the future, an [un]witting look into the world of 24-hour cable news":

Some journalists argue that letting viewers see the raw reporting process—mistakes and all—was profoundly democratizing.

"Before the Kennedy assassination, new[s] was packaged," says Fox News' Greta van Susteren. "You'd go out, shoot it, write a script, someone would make a decision about what the viewer was allowed to see and hear, and then you'd put it out. During the Kennedy coverage, viewers were part of the news-gathering. When they saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on camera, they were on a journey with reporters to collect the news. We do that all the time now on television."

In the years since, that journey has taken viewers to Cape Canaveral as the Challenger exploded, to the World Trade Center on 9/11, as well as to a Los Angeles freeway where O.J. Simpson's white Bronco fled police and the scenes of the disappearance of an apparently countless number of women whose main significance was that they were young and blond. For better or worse, it all started that day in Dallas.

Whole thing, well worth reading, here.

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  1. The live coverage of a developing story is OK, so long as there is new information coming.

    What pisses me off is when the same information keeps getting repeated every 5 minutes with no new information coming. The night Princess Diana died was a particularly egregious example of the latter. If they haven’t got new information, go back to the regular programming.

  2. One positive consequence of this type of coverage is that it gives Howard Stern fans something to do with their copious free time.

  3. 24/4 coverage?

  4. You’d go out, shoot it, write a script, someone would make a decision about what the viewer was allowed to see and hear, and then you’d put it out.

    Or, to call it what normal people do, “editing”.

  5. I always thought the days of 24/7 news channels really started with the coverage of the Buckwheat shooting and subsequent John David Stuts assasination.

  6. I just spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out what this quote was originally:

    “new[s] was packaged”

    What else could go there besides the ‘s’?

  7. Packaged programming came with the invention of videotape. It was a reaction to the live television of the early days, when an inexperienced or excited reporter could turn the news into something like the H&R blog.

    Eventually the pendulum swung back, and we had fugitives watching on TV live shots of the cops trying to sneak up on them.

    During the Kennedy coverage, viewers were part of the news-gathering. When they saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on camera, they were on a journey with reporters to collect the news. We do that all the time now on television.

    And once again part of the explanation is advancing technology. Deciding to go live was as much a product of hand-held (and smaller) cameras and transmitters as it was a conscious studio decision.

    The really new thing is airing civilian video.

    Eventually it will balance, by which time we’ll invent something new.

  8. “But Other Than That, Mrs. Kennedy, How Did You Like the News Coverage?”

    God, that joke never gets old…

  9. I’m with Aresen on this one. Or to skeletenize most ‘breaking news’ dog and pony shows…

    Something happened, we don’t know anything, but we’ll keep talking like we did until someone does. Meanwhile, here’s a vagely, tangentially, washed-up ‘expert’ to give you 2minutes of wildly unsupportable speculation… Over to you Jim…

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