REVIEW by Maxwell
D. Epstein, Dean Emeritus,
International Students and Scholars, UCLA
NO TIME TO
The Menace of Media Speed and the 24 Hour News Cycle
Howard Rosenberg and Charles Feldman
The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2008
are well steeped in the culture of the media. Rosenberg won a Pulitzer
during his 25 years as the TV critic for the Los Angeles Times. He now
teaches critical writing and news ethics at the University of Southern
California. Feldman is an investigative TV and print journalist, who worked
for CNN in New York and Los Angeles, and now contributes to CBS radio.
He also teaches at the University of Southern California, where he is
an adjunct professor of journalism.
In their Prologue, they provide a rather dramatic rendition of their thesis:
we have before us bloggers whipping up hyperbole like meringue
and hyperventilating news anchors, ad-libbing reporters, instant non-experts
and hair-trigger pundits shooting form the hip with bombast blazing on
the Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC." And finally, quoting TV journalist
Dave Marash, "news and faux news traveling faster than the speed
of thought." So here we have it; the villains are TV news, bloggers
and the internet in general. We are addicted to speed. It thrills us and
is like adrenaline. Beyond stating this "fact," there is no
discussion about the psychology or underlying dynamics of our love for
speed, but maybe it is self-evident.
The problem of speed in the media, we are told, escalated in 1980, when
CNN began. The media's speed for speed's sake mania evolved from the 24
hour news cycle. The result was that CNN released "
biosphere a chain-reaction force and media-mushroom cloud whose fallout
would become the 24 hour news cycle." This brief quote is useful,
both in conveying the author's point of view, and also their somewhat
florid use of language.
Reference is made to Carl Honore's book "In Praise of Slowness-Challenging
the Cult of Speed." (That book, by the way, is well worth reading.
Honore attacks speed as applied to eating, sex, and medicine among other
aspects of our lives. He even discovers that weight lifting slowly is
far more effective for muscle-building).
Among the problems caused by speed in the media, Rosenberg and Feldman
include errors, which are sometimes dangerous; poor use of language; reporting
which takes place before the event; adverse effects on decision-makers
who are rushed for opinions; and political debates which are not really
debates, but 30- or 60- second sound bytes on major issues.
A good example they offer of the danger of news speed is the Cuban missile
crisis. The case is made that if we had the speed then that we have now,
there is a good possibility that the American public would have brought
great pressure on President Kennedy to bomb the missile sites. We now
know that the Soviets controlling these missiles had orders to fire them
at the U S if they were attacked, and that would likely have been the
start of World War III.
The authors argue that there is not really enough news to fill our three
24 hour news channels (CNN, Fox and MSNBC), and therefore they fill in
with trivia and opinion which is not news. One example they site is Lou
Dobbs and his ongoing tirade against undocumented immigrants. The problem
with this argument is the premise. What evidence is there to support the
contention that there is not enough real news? There are some 200 countries
in the world. There is this one very complicated USA where significant
things are happening much of the time. There are stories about the best
and worst human responses to events, about breakthroughs in our understanding
of the world.
The issue here may be that the news channels are not expending the time
or resources required to unearth the news. As for the Lou Dobbs example,
surely his tirades are obviously opinion, as is much of the commentary
on TV, and the question is, are we fooled by this? The trivia complaint
is valid and is frequent.
We are informed that not all is bad with speed. Technology which produces
speed can be beneficial. In 1481 a letter sent from Turkey to England
took two years to arrive. In 1841 it took three months and 20 days for
Los Angeles to learn of President William Harrison's death in the East.
It is also recognized that live cameras are peerless when covering civil
disturbances or wildfires.
Although much of the book is devoted to the problems of TV, the internet
also comes in for its share of blame for our malaise. Bloggers, are cited
as guilty of sending opinion in the guise of news. The question here is
whether those who read these messages consider them news, or recognize
them as opinion.
At the end of the book, there is a rather short section on solutions.
One improvement they suggest would be for newscasters to more often state
that all is not yet known instead of speculating. They advocate training
our children to recognize truth in reporting. UCLA and the University
of Southern California (USC) offer courses in media literacy, but we rarely
teach the subject to children. Canada, Australia and England, by contrast,
do. One reason given by some Canadians for teaching media literacy from
the first grade on is that they are equipping their children to resist
the U S culture that is imposed on them.
This is not a long book, but it would have benefited from some disciplined
editing. Many of the points are made repeatedly, and the number of examples
is sometimes excessive. Still, it is a useful wakeup call to the ways
in which speed in the media cheapen and even endanger our society. More
thought given to how to change the current trends would have made the
book more valuable.