Jeff Jarvis has seen the latest movie version of the life of US broadcast journalist Ed Murrow, a man who firstly faced down Joe McCarthy’s anti American activities committee and then came to embody the mainstream anchorman. Jarvis argues that whatever claims to virtue that Murrow had, his claim to objectivity in the news has had a debilitating effect on the mainstream media’s capacity to tell a straight story (reg needed).He wonders:
…whether Murrow’s triumph did not lead, if inadvertently, to a half-century of journalistic haughtiness, self-importance and separation from the public, which is proving to be the downfall of the news business today.
Murrow’s disciples came to believe that the wattage of their broadcast towers entitled them to equivalent power in society. They thought they were no longer just hacks looking out for the common man – as common men themselves – but were instead saviours of society, and rich ones at that. Not merely “newsreaders”, as you call them in Britain, our TV faces dubbed themselves “anchors”. And they gave Murrow’s home, CBS, not a diminutive nickname like “the Beeb”, but instead crowned it “the Tiffany Network”. They thought they could do no wrong.
These founding fathers of TV news could convince themselves of their invincibility because they came into journalism just as television itself destroyed competition among local newspapers. In almost every market in America, TV’s entrance established an era of media monopolies, of fewer voices and less diversity of views. CBS News, and the rest of TV and print journalism, became isolated atop the pedestals they built for themselves.
He goes on to make the case that the role of the everyman is being played these days by a legion of bloggers, where the big market news organisations have failed to keep listening to people. However, towards the end he wonders about the long term effects of endless disaggregation that blogging is so often dependent upon:
Yet Good Night did gave me pause. It made me wonder whether we might miss the omnipresent platform that broadcast news was. For it was that power that allowed Murrow to subdue McCarthy and defend democracy. In our new, distributed world, we’ll have to re-aggregate ourselves into a powerful chorus of voices to be heard. Will we be loud enough? We don’t yet know.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty