Television and journalism have a relatively short history together, yet over the last sixty years, the two have become increasingly intertwined, perhaps even irreversible so. But this merger is between two opposing forces–one, a mass medium that inherently demands entertainment and the other, a profession most people hold responsible for information, for facts, which, for the most part, are inherently boring. So has television been beneficial for the American people? The people that our country’s founding fathers chose to hold responsible for electing those to be responsible for our country’s government? By exploring the history of television journalism, discovering how it came to be, and looking at current trends in the industry, I only hope to be able to give my own informed opinion.
Throughout the 1950s, executives experimented with the television and how to use it effectively. In the beginning, producers struggled with the new technology–introducing visual transitions or the beginning use of graphics to accompany news, which were mostly crude line drawing (Barkin 28-29). But, in 1963 (some pinpoint the exact day to be November 22, 1963) the television cemented itself as a mass medium–an integral part of American culture–and the “Big Three,” television networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) established themselves at the forefront of innovation in the field (35).
In 1963, advances in technology, such as lightweight cameras, communication satellites, and videotape, allowed for more immediate transmissions of news. Thus, on November 22, 1963, the “Big Three” were able to broadcast the touchdown of Air Force One, follow President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade through Dallas, and capture the sounds of gunfire and images of the chaos that ensued. Just 38 minutes after he died, Walter Cronkite came on the air for CBS to report the death of the President. Coverage of the Kennedy assassination and the days following finally showed the full potential of television journalism. Television news was now in a position from where it could fill a compelling role in public life (35, 37).
The Kennedy assassination and funeral coverage was the most watched event of the 1960s. 96.1% of homes that owned a television (or, approximately, 166 million Americans) were tuned into the coverage and the average viewing time for each household was 31 hours, 38 minutes, over a four-day period–some household members watched the coverage for more than eleven hours per day (37-38). Today, the coverage of the Kennedy assassination is considered by some to be the finest hour in television history, and others have said the most important–putting forth the belief that television held the country together in the wake of the tragedy (36).
Another example of how far television news had become entrenched in American politics by that time, is a quote from Lyndon B. Johnson. After announcing that he would not seek reelection, having lost his base of political support, he explained to...