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.
In liberating themselves from the caprices of the breaking news cycle, a new generation of newcasts can capitalize on the opportunity TV offers for community-building. Their resources and their air time freed from the constraints of breaking news, broadcasts will have the opportunity instead to focus, for example, on assembling panels of expert guests and on preparing questions for those guests that will lead to lively conversation—and they can enjoy the luxury of having those panel discussions last longer than five minutes. They can invest in the newsmagazine-style segments of reporting and criticism—mini-documentaries, even—that audiences both like and need. (For evidence of both, see the surge in ratings that 60 Minutes has enjoyed for the past two weeks.) They can, overall, serve as a kind of national town hall, in which leaders—political and intellectual and cultural—come together to talk to their constituents. What these newscasts would lack in terms of the Web’s democratic give-and-take, they’d be well positioned to compensate for in providing smart curation, and analysis of, the major stories of the day.