The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 8, 2013

23 minutes to 24 hours: We need more substantive news and fewer ‘talking heads’

Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The late, great CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite once complained about the length of the evening TV broadcast.

“Everything is compressed into tiny tablets,” Cronkite said. “You take a little pill of news every day — 23 minutes — and that’s supposed to be enough.”

If you don’t know about Walter Cronkite, then you probably aren’t old enough to remember when the national news was mainly a nightly staple.

CNN’s arrival in the 1980s dramatically changed the national news industry, according to the textbook “Media and Culture” by Richard Campbell, Christopher R. Martin and Bettina Fabos. Bloating from nearly 24 minutes, the 24-hour news cycle dramatically altered the definition of what is newsworthy.

Since it’s cost-prohibitive to dispatch journalists to report on real stories, cheaper “talking heads” are more commonplace on round-the-clock cable news channels. It’s sad but true.

The punditry business invaded airwaves during the Gulf War, when ex-generals became paid military analysts, according to the American Journalism Review. When news doesn’t break, pundits are the norm on cable news programming.

And these stations certainly have their point of view. MSNBC leans left, while Fox News goes the other direction.

“Although CNN does more original reporting than Fox News and MSNBC (anchor Anderson Cooper often reports live from the scene of events), the originator of cable news lost 37 percent of its audience in 2010,” according to the “Media and Culture” text. “However, it regained some viewers in 2011 during Japan’s tragic earthquake and the political turmoil in Egypt and Libya.”

In our neck of the woods, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority may cease to exist in 2014 if a sunset bill passes the state Legislature this year and state funding is withdrawn.

A sunset proposal threatens authorization for another year, and some legislators wonder whether funding the network is part of core state services.

Certain legislators targeted OETA last year to such a degree that it nearly was eliminated as an agency.

In its history, OETA has aired excellent programming, including the “Oklahoma News Report,” a respected newscast that offers informative and exclusive journalism statewide. It offers less national news and punditry, and it covers the legislature.

Targeting public television is wrongheaded.