Academic journal article Journalism History

That's the Way It Is: A History of Television News in America

Academic journal article Journalism History

That's the Way It Is: A History of Television News in America

Article excerpt

Ponce de Leon, Charles L That's the Way It Is: A History of Television News in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 352 pp. $30.

Ponce de Leon's work is a chronological narrative that builds from the position that network and local television news outlets have always reflected American history the way it happened. The author addresses evolving issues, people, technology, and news trends. Although many news topics have been analyzed for decades for academic journals, Ponce de Leon relies on special collections at Syracuse University, the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, UCLA's Film and Television Archive, the Paley Center for Media, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications, online information, and good textual sources.

Television news has never been free. All television stations and networks sell commercial time to advertisers. In the first chapter, the author describes the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) "public interest" provision as a means conceived for countering the sway of market forces, but also as one that the commission has never fully applied. The chapter traces the influence of key individuals along with technological advances. It concludes, echoing with the same warning tone of Edward R. Murrow's "wires and lights in a box" speech to the Radio-Television News Directors Association meeting in October 1958.

Ponce de Leon argues in chapter 2, "The Voice of God," that the criticism of news came from the news profession-and the upper middle class and college educated-who were overly concerned with news trends. Newton Minow's 1961 speech at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention had urged its members to create more than a vast wasteland. By the mid1960s local news departments had begun developing facilities and injecting revenue. New resources encouraged and enhanced news production at all levels. As the local audience grew, so did the commitment of management, now seeing the news division as a revenue-producing unit. Ratings grew, as did fierce competition for news viewers. Flowever, by the end of the 1970s the author concludes "the network news divisions were losing their credibility with viewers . . . because they were seeking to inform through a medium that was poorly suited for rational discourse and the sober objective analysis of complex issues and events."

In February 1966, Fred Friendly resigned from CBS. Chapter 3 describes his stalwart efforts to improve television. He went to Columbia University, the Ford Foundation, and then the FCC suggesting educational television (ETV) as a public alternative to commercialism. This push for high-quality news produced mixed results, but one result was the publically funded Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). PBS was more successful with news discussion-styled public affairs than hard news reports. Even The MacNeiULehrer Report simply augmented the commercial networks.

The message of the satirical movie Network introduces chapter 4 and the revolutionary status of news in the mid-1970s. Many were not amused, insisting news should not be confused with show business. …

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