BELTWAY: The proliferation of media sources has led to news saturation - trouble is, it’s all the same

Old (and some not-so-old) Washington hands who watch the news beats and try to assess where and when the coverage is coming from, are having a harder and harder time figuring it out.

Old (and some not-so-old) Washington hands who watch the news beats and try to assess where and when the coverage is coming from, are having a harder and harder time figuring it out.

Old (and some not-so-old) Washington hands who watch the news beats

and try to assess where and when the coverage is coming from, are having

a harder and harder time figuring it out.



The problem, of course, is the proliferation of media sources. In the

past, a fairly predictable mix of print and television - with three

over-the-air networks capturing nearly 80% of the news-watching

audience, and Americans gathering 75% of their news from those sources -

made things pretty easy. If The New York Times wasn’t covering a story,

then it was likely other newspapers would take the cue. And if CBS, NBC

and ABC were also going elsewhere, then there was no story. But now,

with many more news magazines on the old-line networks, loud shouters on

a myriad of ’all news’ cable channels, and, above all, with the Internet

available to anyone with an opinion who can type, news is everywhere.

The trouble is, it’s all the same.



Years ago, Eugene McCarthy observed that news media were like blackbirds

on a telephone wire; when one flew away the others all followed. And so

it still is - encouraged by an increase in audience from near-zero to a

few - the ’all-news’ cable channels looked to the network ’commentary’

shows, and began giving us what Calvin Trillin called the ’Sunday

gasbags’ every day.



Whether it was the shocking death of Princess Diana, the politicized

’impeachment’ against President Clinton, or the more recent death of

John F. Kennedy Jr., the pattern has been the same.



’All Diana’ or ’all Monica’ or ’all JFK, Jr.’ all the time became what

we saw and heard, and what the print media then chewed over. Any British

socialite or ex-Royal, any Clinton-hater with an attitude, or, finally,

anyone with a pilot’s license became an authority.



These were followed, of course, by the journalists (talk show hosts) and

historians (celebrity book authors) who would then discuss, in depth,

alas, ’did we over-cover the event?’ We are still in that mode, and may

remain there until the next celebrated news subject comes along.



It’s at least gratifying to know that even the cable channels now agree

perhaps there has been some over-coverage. A new era will dawn, we may

hope, when the realization sinks in that the number of talking heads is

a function of the over-coverage.



Just think, fewer ’commentators’ will actually produce less on which to

comment. Fewer ’journalists,’ will mean less ’journalism.’ And less

journalism will result in more facts on which to base judgements or even

plan campaigns.



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