Veteran journalists examine the drawbacks of 24-hour news culture

  • By Dinesh Ramde Associated Press
  • Thursday, October 16, 2008 4:16pm
  • Life

“No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle” (Continuum Books. 240 pages. $24.95), by Howard Rosenberg and Charles S. Feldman

Critics who pan 24-hour news channels now have a pair of unlikely allies — two veteran journalists who agree that frantic deadlines and an endless hunger for content have left news shows bloated and often worthless.

In “No Time to Think,” Howard Rosenberg and Charles S. Feldman argue that the need for speed results in news telecasts with more mistakes and less analysis. And with so much airtime to fill, second-rate content that shouldn’t qualify as news comes to dominate the programming.

These arguments aren’t new but they do seem to gain credibility when they’re asserted by insiders. Rosenberg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former TV critic for The Los Angeles Times, and Feldman has nearly 20 years of journalism experience that include reporting for CNN.

The apparent point of their book is to caution viewers: CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are more obsessed with speed than with getting things right, so be skeptical of what you hear from them.

Rosenberg and Feldman may have a good point. But their argument is built more on anecdotes from other news producers, and less from real-life examples that would resonate more effectively with readers.

For example, they cite this year’s Democratic caucus in Iowa where Sen. Barack Obama trounced Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. As the New Hampshire primary approached five days later, media pundits confidently predicted that Obama would cruise to another victory, citing polls that suggested as much.

But Clinton proved the so-called experts wrong, a blunder Rosenberg and Feldman suggest gave a black eye to the entire industry. This is what happens, they say, when news organizations try to predict the news ahead of time. Why not wait for the news to happen first and THEN report it?

Clearly the authors are news purists. They came of age in a generation where journalists had reasonable deadlines that allowed them time to investigate, ask questions, verify, analyze and parse — evidently Rosenberg and Feldman long for those good ol’ days.

At times, their arguments come across as inspiration to younger journalists — a call to uphold higher standards. But at other times, the authors sound like old-school curmudgeons who are too set in their ways to accept change.

Rosenberg and Feldman acknowledge the generation gap but insist that certain journalism standards don’t go out of style.

The best nuggets in this book are the occasional glimpses of how TV reporters do their jobs. In one chapter Feldman describes how things work behind the scenes at CNN, how reporters react to breaking news, what their goals are during the one- to two-minute live shots, and so on. Those glimpses can help viewers understand what they’re being fed and why.

“No Time to Think” is a quick read, and its immediate appeal will be to those who aren’t fans of the 24-hour news channels. But any reader who wants to understand how news outlets such as CNN are run might appreciate a behind-the-scenes glimpse from a longtime insider.

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