The Future of Cable News
In my column for CNN, I make the case for major changes in the cable news model.
Like many people in the media and political world, I first heard from Twitter the news that Mitt Romney had chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate. The information appeared between 11 p.m. and midnight on a Friday night. The alert was quickly confirmed by multiple news sources on my Twitter feed: TV networks, newspapers, wire services. Like many journalists, I stayed up late that night to write about the decision, filing copy over the next three hours. I was so weary the next morning that I very nearly slept through the broadcast of the actual announcement event in Norfolk, Virginia.
I didn't, quite. And so it was a little less than 12 hours after the breaking of this important political story that I first switched on my TV.
Things move fast in the modern world, so let's cut straight to the point: Cable TV is no longer the place where news breaks, and has not been so for years. Social media have done to cable TV news what cable news, in its day, did to the afternoon editions of big-city papers: shouldered aside its slower and less adaptable predecessor.
In this new world, the distinction between reporters and sources, between media and everybody else, begins to fade away. The correspondent who calls an expert for analysis may find himself on hold while the expert posts her thoughts to her blog for all the world to read. For more than a century, journalists have mediated between knowledge-holders and information consumers. But the Internet is bringing producers and consumers ever more directly into contact, whether the product is steel girders, home mortgages, or breaking news.
What cable news does do, unrivaled, is broadcast images of events to a large global audience. When there's a crowd protesting in Tahrir Square -- or a wildfire raging in southern California -- viewers still turn to cable. Yet how often do such events occur? And how much longer will even that advantage hold? In a world of camera phones, everybody becomes a video journalist. Our images of the violence in Syria all come from locals -- and are available to any media organization that will buy or barter for them.
So what should cable do in such a news environment?