The Troubles of Journalism: A Critical Look at What's Right and Wrong with the Press

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
News on the Air: A Sense of Decline

Radio, if it is to serve and survive, must hold a mirror behind the nation and the world. If the reflection shows radical intolerance, economic inequality, bigotry, unemployment or anything else -- let the people see it, or rather hear it. The mirror must have no curves and must be held with a steady hand.

-- Edward R. Murrow ( 1945)

For more than 40 years, television has been a powerful information force, focusing a nation's attention on great events -- a presidential election, a disastrous war in Vietnam, an historic struggle in the 1960s for civil rights, and more recently, the fall of Communism and a prime time war in the Persian Gulf.

In 1963, the three networks began their 30-minute evening newscasts (originally 15 minutes as in radio) which became the "front page" from which most Americans got their news. But in recent years, things have changed. There has been a pervading atmosphere of unease about television news, a sense that broadcast journalism has lost its way and is in decline.

In addressing the shortcomings of today's journalism, it should be understood that some criticisms are peculiar to television news, others to news on radio, and still others to newspapers and magazines. Yet, many broad-brush indictments of poor press performance blame all news media equally. That is patently unfair. Some criticisms such as mixing entertainment with news may seem to cut across several media but not in the same ways. The problem of celebrity journalists is peculiar to television. Many media differences persist.

The media are not a monolith, but a complex and heterogeneous collection of diverse organizations and individuals often with quite

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