Now, granted, that may seem impractical at first, even foolish—the whole live-air thing, after all, would seem to make TV a painfully obvious platform for of-the-moment news-breaking. And occasionally it is. But not overall. Because (sorry, Luddites of the world, but) the Internet’s expansion in use and relevance is not an opinion, but a fact. Journalism, going forward, will have the Web to contend with. And the Web is simply superior as a platform for breaking news. It’s superior to newspapers. It’s superior to radio. And, yes, it’s superior to TV.
While a TV reporter simply reads a breaking-news headline—and perhaps, when audiences are lucky, offers a few sentences of context (and, when they’re really lucky, an accompanying graphic or photo…and, when they’re really, really lucky, accompanying video footage)—the Web can offer the same headline (again, in efficiently readable text) accompanied by: links to related stories, maps and other graphics, any video that may be available, etc. And as the news item follows the normal trajectory from headline to report to foundation-for-analysis, a Web page can archive that evolution, providing context at every step.
Watch a TV news broadcast while a story is breaking, and you’ll likely have to wait—in some cases, quite a while—for the cycle to loop back to the story you’re interested in. And, even if you happen to hit it just right, timing-wise, you’ll still miss out on the depth and context that only the Web can provide. While news on the Internet reaches, nearly infinitely, both horizontally and vertically, news on TV is is constrained by the limitations of its own segmentation. It offers finite points to the Web’s ever-expanding lines.
So, then, when it comes to efficiency, it’s Web: 1, TV: 0; and when it comes to context, it’s Web: 1, TV: 0. And, importantly, it’s also Web: 1, TV: 0 when it comes to accuracy. Because when errors, of fact or judgment, are introduced in Web stories, their corrections, once noted, become part of the story’s textual record. An “update” notation, when done correctly, displays at once the original error and the correction. In this way, the evolution of fact-finding and narrative-building is made transparent. When errors are made in TV news reporting, on the other hand, their corrections often get lost in the ether. If you were to hear an erroneous fact in a morning TV report, it would take nothing short of a stroke of luck for you hear a correction to that same bit of misinformation later in the day.
In other words: the Web celebrates and fosters the organic, context-driven nature of news. Television, confined as it is by the dual constraints of time and technology, fights it.
But that’s not bad news for TV news—or, at any rate, it doesn’t have to be. Back to what TV does well: providing context, humanizing the news, expanding news stories past their text and into the realm of the communal. So, TV news executives, producers, reporters: Take advantage of all that. Play to your strengths. In your case, be to the Web what magazines have been to newspapers. Take ’Net-based reporting to the next level. Do even more of what you do now: Serve as a platform for people in the news—politicians, businesspeople, anyone—to have their say. Interview them. Dig deep. Provide context to their stories. Invite experts—with an emphasis on academics and intellectuals, and a decided de-emphasis on partisan spokespeople (and—dare I dream?—a ban on “body language experts” of any kind)—to provide context and criticism. Run segments of explanatory journalism pegged to the news of the day. Curate that news. Analyze. Provide context. Think. Stop thinking of TV news as a kind of visual version of a reported blog, and consider it instead more as a visual version of a magazine of ideas. (Or, at least, of a newsmagazine.) Treat here’s-what’s-happening-right-now news summaries not as the end point of a broadcast, but as the foundation.