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.
But wait, you may say. When it comes down to it, aren’t you really arguing for more punditry on TV news? And, well, yes. But advocating more punditry need not, on its own, be journalistic heresy. Because what I’d like to see, specifically, is a kind of PBS-ified punditry: smart, thoughtful, valuable analysis that contextualizes the news. That even—hey, let’s go crazy here—has fun with the news. More news analysis need not, after all, mean less news; more punditry need not mean less reporting. I’m simply arguing for an efficient and intelligent allocation of resources. I have confidence that newspapers and their descendants will continue to develop the mechanisms and the models that will produce, in the aggregate, more reporting—and quality reporting, at that. The citizenry of our digitized future, largely via the Web, will be more informed about our world, not less. But TV shouldn’t cede all reporting to other outlets—again, I’d hope that freedom from the vagaries of the split-second news cycle would leave more reportorial resources for enterprise work—rather, simply the snippet-style reporting required to regurgitate breaking-news stories from the Web.
Nor am I arguing for the blanket PBS-ification of all TV news. Because, first, well, snooze. (Blanket-anything is rarely a good idea, not only because uniformity is unproductive, but also because it’s boring.) And also: networks, obviously, are and should be free to develop their own individual voices. If that inches some closer to the NewsHour and others closer to Inside Edition, well, so be it. But I am saying that much of TV news right now, in its mix of breaking alerts and half-hearted analysis, is somewhat akin to daily helpings of broccoli with Cheez-Whiz, the healthy stuff made more palatable to audiences by virtue of its blanket of neon-tastic ooze. And since the Web already serves up broccoli (rendered, to belabor the metaphor, both tastier and more nutritious to consumers because of the Web’s freshness-assuring packaging), TV news might as well focus on the tasty stuff. And given a choice between Cheez-Whiz and, say—sorry, last metaphor-belaborment—a nice, aged, melted Gouda…wouldn’t most of us prefer the latter?