Tough Times for TV Networks Face Trouble on Nightly Newscasts. TELEVISION'S FUTURE

Article excerpt

NETWORK television news, usually at its best and sharpest when there is trouble in the world, is in deep trouble itself.

Modern communications have allowed independent stations to air their own national and international coverage, creating the impression in viewers that by tuning in to the networks on a given evening they are seeing and hearing news that is already old.

The networks have also been hurt by the Cable News Network with its around-the-clock coverage. During the Gulf war, CNN became the news network of choice for a vast audience, leaving the three major networks and their highly paid anchors behind.

That there will be changes in network news, and that these changes are likely to be drastic in the years to come - with the networks looking to pool their resources - is evident from recent announcements.

NBC News has said that it will collaborate with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) for coverage of the 1992 Democratic and Republican conventions. NBC's anchor, Tom Brokaw, will team up with Robin MacNeil and Jim Lehrer of the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" to provide combined commentary. (All the networks will sharply curtail their political convention coverage which, in 1988, saw the network audiences drop considerably.)

Mr. MacNeil, one of the most widely respected television journalists and interviewers today, said in an interview that the network news problems have no real solutions.

"Network news employs a great many very capable journalists. Its fatal flaw is that they operate as part of a system which is forced to maximize its audience," he says.

"The networks have created a show which gets into the tent at the same time all the uninterested, uninformed, and uncurious people, as well as the well-informed and sophisticated. It is an almost impossible communications proposition."

MacNeil has a theory about the hurried pace of the network newscasts, frequently a subject of criticism. …


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