"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"... or so goes the famous line in Oscar winning film Network. The plot focuses on news anchor Howard Beale, who, when he is fired for poor ratings, threatens to commit suicide live on air (bizarrely this element of the plot was actually influenced by real events). However, in making his pronouncement, he becomes a lightning rod for all manner of public dissatisfaction and a ratings sensation, making TV like this. There was something akin to a "network" moment on MSNBC the other day when news reader Mika Brzezinska refused to read an item about Paris Hilton. This event neatly summarised some of the tensions inherent in the modern TV newsroom, especially since the advent of 24 hours news.
TV news is a strange medium. In the past few days, I've had 24 hour news on in the background quite a lot whilst I've been working - first for the Deputy Leadership election results on Sunday, then the Prime Ministerial handover on Wednesday, and the reshuffle yesterday, and then for details of the attempted London bombing today. The nature of continual news is quite frantic (and thus also quite exciting), but also deeply repetitive, as information is at a premium. As a viewer, you have to take everything with a pinch of salt, as organisations clearly have access to different sources and are willing to run it with different levels of supporting evidence. Sky, for example, proclaimed that Alan Johnson was going to be Deputy Leader of the Labour Party about forty-five minutes before the result came out on Sunday, necessitating a slightly embarrassing volte-face later on.
The Brzezinska-incident highlights another tension in 24 hour news - that it must be all things to all people. It needs to cover "serious" news, celebrity stories, sport, finance and everything else. The danger is that it may end up pleasing no one. I do wonder if this will be something that will limit the lifespan of this kind of communications. Other new communication technologies, especially those derived from the Internet, such as RSS, give the consumer a great deal of control over what information they are presented with. In contrast, TV news seems to be deeply prescriptive and top-down. Ultimately, I would guess we will see some kind of hybrid media, as Internet and television technology merge with each other.
Media commentator Mark Lawson seems to agree with some of my arguments in an article in today's Guardian.