Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now

James Meek writes:

Back in 1997, when liberal capitalism bestrode the Atlantic and history had been abolished, morning came with a newspaper. The paper you got depended not just on your taste, but on where you lived: if you were a coastal American, you might get a vast informational department store like the New York Times, the Washington Post or the LA Times, but the great cities in between had their equivalents, from the Chicago Tribune to the Arizona Republic. If you were British, you might buy one of this country’s bitterly competitive national counterparts, such as the Telegraph, Times or Guardian. Or you might prefer a raucous purveyor of scandal and moral bile like Britain’s Daily Mail or the Sun or the New York Post. These were big titles, but most cities and towns had a daily paper of some kind, with a mix of local and national and international news, comfortably financed by cover price and advertising. During the day, on the way to work, in the workplace, in the canteen, there would be news on the radio, or continued picking over the carcass of the paper. In the evening, there would be the TV news, from NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC or ITN, which you’d watch once, at a regular hour (even as late as 1997, CNN and Sky News were quite niche; Fox News had just started up, and the BBC’s 24-hour news channel launched that autumn). After the network news, there would be the local TV bulletin. Some evenings, there were news specials, longer shows like CBS’s 60 Minutes, ITV’s World in Action or the BBC’s Panorama. At the weekend, you might settle in to read one of America’s news magazines, Time or Newsweek, or one of the Sunday papers: Britain’s Observer or Mail on Sunday or the immense Sunday edition of the New York Times (its biggest ever number, on 14 September 1987, had 1612 pages and weighed 12 pounds). Undergirding the whole news media ecoverse were two dominant news agencies (the wires, in newsroom argot): the Associated Press and Reuters, which together with the Press Association in the UK made it possible for editors to expand their coverage beyond the limits imposed by their own staff and budgets and, invisibly to the news audience, exerted a powerful agenda-setting effect.

(LRB 6 December 2018)

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