Utne Blogs > Media

Cable News Is Hurting America

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: media, cable news, talking heads, Project for Excellence in Journalism, American Journalism Review, CNN, Fox News,

Why do cable news shows exist? They don’t break news, but once they find a story they like—the Reverend Wright kerfuffle or the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for example—the talking heads will bang on the controversy like a child with a saucepan and a metal spoon. And the problems with cable news don’t stay quarantined inside of Fox News or CNN. A recent article for the American Journalism Review (AJR) scrutinizes the "cable news effect" on the rest of the mainstream media. Most journalists understandably recoil at the notion of the 24-hour news networks influencing editorial decisions, but cable news’ ability to keep a story on the media agenda is undeniable.

Cable news viewership is eclipsed by that of network news, according to research by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), but its influence is not to be underestimated. One reason, according to AJR, is that most mainstream newsrooms have at least one television constantly tuned to a 24 hour news network. Some editors have spoken of an “osmosis” effect, where the cable news ideas tend to seep into the minds of the rest of the media.

It must be difficult for cable news programmers to fill some 18 hours of programming each day. But instead of focusing on important issues, PEJ research shows that, “tabloid-tinged crime and celebrity” stories and bombastic pundits tend to dominate the airwaves. The repetitive, formulaic coverage offered by the 24-hour news networks doesn’t always serve to elevate public discourse, but it gets the point across.

The problem is that the cable news formula has been working. The AJR reports that cable news has been gaining in  popularity and prestige over recent years, and so far there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue. So long as cable news continue to influence the rest of the media, those talking heads won’t go away any time soon.

pam_1
8/9/2008 11:10:36 PM

"It must be difficult for cable news programmers to fill some 18 hours of programming each day." I couldn't agree more. What about the last 24 hours? All I have heard on EVERY news station is "John Edwards admits to having an affair." You know what? I ALREADY KNOW THAT! I already heard it one million times plus I read it in the paper. Let's move on. (Am I the only one who doesn't give a rat's a** what he did? He's not the democratic nominee.......he's not on a ticket......so who cares?) Hey! Here's an idea! Instead of repeating the same story over and OVER, the olympics are underway. How about some interesting stories on some of the olympic athletes or some stories on the countries who are in the olympics that we've never heard of and might like to learn something about? That's an idea.........hmmmmmmmmmm.