NPR and the 24-hour News Cycle

A common critique of the "current state of things" is that we are so thoroughly saturated with information, especially news reporting, that we've lost our attention span and are more easily convinced of certain positions via sound bytes, talking points, and the like.

I always figured that with an entire channel (in fact, multiple channels) focused solely on news, 24 hours a day, that there would be enough time to really get into issues, showcase all points of view, have legitimate discussion/debate, and so on. For whatever reason, this isn't the case.

I think, like a lot of people in my generation for sure but probably a lot of people more generally speaking, I haven't really "read" a newspaper in a long time. I have a hard time reading through an entire news article and instead usually skim headlines, get the relevant details, and then impress people at parties and gatherings by appearing to be "abreast of all of the relevant issues." Just don't ask me any questions about details or specifics.

I was talking with a co-worker about how most of the news I get is from the radio, in the car on the way to places, where the top-of-the-hour headline report gives me the important info and then, if I am so inclined, I can do some more research and get the rest of the details later with my own Google news search. From an NPR report about the "State of the 24-hour news cycle" as compared to previous decades:
Well, if you read Ted Turner's vision--and he's now really no longer involved in the running of CNN--but if you read what he had to say back when it was launched, he sort of described it as a newspaper of the air. He said, `You know, broadcast networks are really too much like headline wire service copy.' In a sense, that's what much of the time cable news functions as. They give you brief bursts of updates. In fact, MSNBC now every 15 minutes gives you an update of the news. And in between they're trying to figure out ways to keep you watching. So they'll do reported pieces. They'll do a lot of interviews. There are a lot of talk shows. And to be honest, there's a lot of things that we would classify as kind of pulpy, quasi-tabloid, quasi-celebrity news; anything that's sort of waiting for the next great crisis. And when crisis hits, people turn to cable, they particularly turn to CNN. And when crisis abates, they kind of tune it out. They don't need it as much.
But here's the thing - this is exactly what NPR does. NPR does a headline round-up every hour (or more often). Because it's radio, and you never know who has just started listening and who has been paying attention for a longer period, the headlines are often the same, repeated over and over. You hear short clips from recent speeches or events.

The advantage radio has over print is that you can interview people and hear their voices, get their opinions on things. You can even have four people in the same room, with divergent views, debating whatever current event/issue. But what happens?

How often have you heard a radio host say, "Well, we're just about out of time"? And they had allocated 15 minutes to whatever particular news story. And there are four people to talk to, and then the host has to talk and say things like, "This is NPR, here are our sponsors and here are the folks that did technical support on this story," and whatever. Each person gets two minutes of air-time, just like the "24-hour news cycle." That's enough to repeat the headline, throw in some talking points, launch a couple of ad-hominem attacks at your opponents, and not much else. It's no different.

This is slightly different on certain shows, Democracy Now! for example, but they are still just an hour long. I think radio is difficult because rarely do people sit around and listen to the radio at home like they used to. Do we really not have the patience to sit through a comprehensive, cogent analysis of whatever issue? Can we only handle soundbytes and talking points?

Do you listen to NPR?
Do you still read the newspaper / online news articles?
How do you get your news?
Is there any convenient venue for legitimate discussion / news analysis?
Do you have the time / attention span for lengthy, cogent analysis of the news of the day?

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