Harvard panel: Five ways TV news is evolving

byMargaret Looney
Sep 21, 2011 in Multimedia Journalism

In 1961, Newt Minow - then chairman of the Federal Communications Commission – famously described TV programming as a "vast wasteland" and urged a shift to public interest programming.

Media experts, journalists and Minow himself reexamined his speech 50 years later at “News and Entertainment in the Digital Age: A Vast Wasteland Revisited,” an event hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and webcast live here.

Putting into perspective current attributes of the broadcast landscape, participants discussed factors that will frame discussions of news and entertainment well into the digital age and liven up the media "wasteland" of the past half-century.

Here are IJNet's main takeaways:

Journalists learned to share

Partnering with media outlets used to be unheard of in the journalism world, but now being in the lead of the lede race is no longer a priority. Non-profit newsrooms like ProPublica believe in sharing their news with traditional media outlets because its quality will benefit the public interest. Stories with heavy impact are given exclusively to outlets free of charge and the majority of stories are available for reprint with a creative-commons license.

Hyper-local news

Websites covering community news are low-cost ways of highlighting local issues that traditional news media overlook. Sites like AOL subsidiary Patch and Main Street Connect receive news from locals and journalists report their stories. This reinvention of local storytelling is cost-effective, engages readers and is profitable through highly targeted advertisements.

Don’t forget the doughnuts

Public interest programming – nicknamed the “broccoli” of television because of its diet entertainment value - was the focus of Minow’s 1961 speech. But he also urged broadcaster’s to expand their imaginations and the arts; the value of the “doughnut” side of broadcast can’t be ignored. Entertainment websites were the first to feature video of Saddam Hussein’s execution while high-profile media were inaccurately reporting his last words. A web portal for wacky news taken for granted by journalists became a legitimate resource for a serious event.

Audiences are no longer passive

The audience of couch-haunting TV viewers has become the content creators. Citizen journalism is here to stay with a number of platforms to support it – free-for-all channels like Wikipedia, specialized technology blogs like SlashDot and citizen media activists like Global Voices. Online news and information aggregators distribute information at a rate television or traditional media cannot.

Video is the universal human language

Five decades ago, Minow said, “When television is good, nothing - not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers - nothing is better.” Television sets may be outdated technology with Internet penetration flourishing, but video has the lasting power to bridge cultures and move societies to act. Despite all that digital technology has to offer - snappy tweets, citizen blogs or online newspapers - video will remain a dominant factor in news and entertainment for decades to come.