Editorial: 2004 Will Challenge TV News Operations

Jan 5, 2004  •  Post A Comment

With a presidential election and a Summer Olympics on the calendar for 2004, the new year holds the promise of a welcome infusion of new advertising dollars into media coffers. But 2004 also promises to be a year of challenges for the TV business, not the least of which will fall squarely on the shoulders of news departments.
Television news has come under unprecedented pressure in recent years as media consolidation and a stagnant economy have joined forces to put the squeeze on news operations throughout the industry. Gone are the days when TV news could justify its existence solely as a service to the public. Today the news is expected to contribute to the bottom line by bringing in viewers and advertisers.
In response, the news has moved away from covering complex issues everyone knows are important because they often don’t attract eyeballs. Increasingly, TV news has migrated toward what might be better described as infotainment: car chases, celebrity court appearances and bantering anchors. Some cable news networks, meanwhile, have embraced ever more opinionated programming, often under the pretense of objective reporting, in an effort to build a loyal audience.
Such moves may produce short-term results, but those results come at a high price. As television news moves further from its mission of providing objective, in-depth coverage of issues that matter, it shoots itself in the foot by eroding its long-term credibility. And it does the nation a disservice by undermining an essential partner in the democratic process: a diligent media.
The need for an attentive and independent media has never been greater, with the nation’s principles under siege not only from terrorism but also from those in positions of power who would compromise the personal freedoms of Americans in the name of fighting terror. With domestic security a top priority at home, suicide bombers killing U.S. troops in Iraq and a heated presidential election season shaping up, the stage is set for a potentially invaluable exchange of ideas on a national level in 2004. What a loss it would be to the nation if TV were to fail to rise to this challenge.
It is incumbent on those who run TV news organizations, and those who oversee them, to remind themselves of how and why they serve, in 2004 and beyond. As we embark on a new year, it is a time to reaffirm a commitment to the basic tenets of journalism: accuracy, objectivity and a balanced presentation.
TV news is at a crossroads and needs to take the high road. The stakes are high for the industry and for every citizen in the nation.