I turned on CNN this morning. The talking head and an “analyst” loomed over a football field-sized map of Eurasia like a pair of colossi, the analyst pointing to areas of Afghanistan with a red-tipped stick. When that proved inadequate, they switched to the playback pen that John Madden made famous, pointing out mountain passes in the Afghan border with a series of dots and arrows to emphasize their Swiss cheese defense.
God, I hate television news.
The on-air coverage since Sept. 11 has only reinforced my belief that newspapers are still important and relevant in the accelerated pace of the information age. Struggling to fill dead air, talking heads in the guise of wise paternal sages spew whatever it is that floats into their heads. Case in point: Last November Dan Rather referred to Gore’s success in California as “capturing the big burrito.”
To the dismay of several copy reader friends of mine, Rather was one of hundreds of news people who used the word “infamy” incorrectly that day. I will concede that at least three papers also followed suit (including our own local News-Press) but at least that was a group mistake.
As people run to their doctors to take lethal doses of antibiotics to stave-off anthrax, CNN provides hypochondriacs with a list of 10 symptoms with which they can supplement their phantom infections.
While people panic, there is a necessity for thoughtful, analytical news coverage. Thoughtful analysis is not conceived in the race for information as each newscaster does their best Walter Cronkite. Thoughtful analysis is lost when news organizations and networks devote around-the-clock coverage of “America Striking Back.” Something must be done to fill dead air. Mostly news anchors prattling on about the “tragedy” or the “evil.”
Several myths rose from the dust and scrap of the WTC, and not all of them can be blamed on the Internet. Unsubstantiated television reports of the cell signals from inside the rubble gave desperate loved ones hope. Suddenly, Afghanistan, a nation that most Americans ignored (even when their military technology and training was fighting the red menace) is the subject of constant coverage. The women who were disenfranchised and beaten when the Taliban took power are finally the subject of national media attention.
While the print media is not infallible, there is permanence to the printed word, something that can’t be undone. A century ago, papers competed for scoops. The clichŽ of the news-hardened reporter phoning the copy desk with a scoop has been replaced by the images of breathless correspondents reading press releases on camera. While the words of news personalities pass into obscurity there is a severity and accountability to the printed word that can never be replaced by the speed of television or the Internet. In the new century, newspapers are as reflective as they are informative. I think tomorrow morning I’ll open the paper instead of turning on the TV.
Cara Jennison is the Daily Nexus’ layout and design editor