Friday, March 28, 2003

Plenty of war news to watch

After watching too much war news on TV when I am at home and reading the Associated Press wire and the Internet when I am in the office, I have some observations to share about media coverage of the war.

A few weeks ago, we published an editorial cartoon that showed a couple deciding they should stock up on TV remote batteries before the shooting started.

I have found the danger isn’t in running out of batteries, but in wearing out the remote!

Thanks to the three major 24-hour news channels, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, we have plenty of news to feast upon.

I am disappointed that my truck, car and home radios pick up no all-news stations. During the day I can hear music, religion and sports. At night, all I can hear is biased talk radio hosts and very little information.

If you have speakers connected to your personal computer, you can pick up the AP radio news channel. But that doesn’t help if you are in your car, walking or in bed. I have considered buying an extra long earphone cord to reach from our computer to our bed.

It is important to realize that print media offers something TV news doesn’t give — random access. You can read about the war, think about what you have read and read it again, if you like.

Since 1970, I have spent years in radio news and in print media . Radio and TV give you immediacy, but print helps you understand.

Now, we have the Internet. It is really the best of both worlds. Internet sites can be updated continuously and they are random access. In addition to watching video files, you can read about the war.

I remember when the Crawfordsville newspaper’s Web site first went online. We had a major story break. I wanted to post the information on the Web site in the early evening, but the newspaper’s news editor wanted to save the story for newspaper readers the next morning. I think we compromised, posting the basic facts on the Web and saving the whole story for the paper. We have occasionally done the same thing on The Brazil Times Web site, http://www.thebraziltimes.com.

Following a fatal train wreck and a murder, we posted basic information and photos on the Web site in the afternoon and then published the whole story in the paper the next day.

Back to the war.

I will not try to compare print, Internet and TV coverage. They are too dissimilar and each has its own strengths.

The Associated Press is doing a great job for all three types of media. AP has reporters in Baghdad as well as in bureaus around the world. Did you know the AP has three offices in Indiana? They are located in Indianapolis, South Bend and Evansville. In addition to reporters in each office, member newspapers and broadcast stations submit local stories to the AP.

As far as Internet sources are concerned, I would give the golden pen award to MSNBC and CNN Web sites. Both do a marvelous job covering the war. I also appreciate the Fox site, but you have to register to get some of Fox’s content and that really turns me off.

For TV coverage, the golden pen goes to MSNBC.

Why? MSNBC seems to be better organized than Fox or CNN. It is that simple.

I spent years covering breaking local news stories for radio stations. I know that you cannot manage breaking news. But you must be able to package it in a way that tells listeners (or viewers), “We are on top of this.”

MSNBC breaks for war headlines every 15 minutes. At that time one of their military experts give a “military minute”, a quick assessment of the war’s progress (if war and progress aren’t a contradiction in terms). MSNBC also has a wall of photos of “America’s Bravest” snapshots of soldiers sent in my wives, parents and significant others. I also appreciate the tireless efforts of their anchors. Lester Holt, Forrest Sawyer and others have been great.

Yet, MSNBC is not perfect. When the space shuttle Columbia crashed, CNN had the best information first.

MSNBC producers let a crank call get on the air. The caller made a joke that was in terribly bad taste and the anchor snickered before the caller was cut off. A while later, we saw the anchor wave off a staff member in a very unprofessional manner that indicated the network’s coverage was out of control.

Clay County folks are still thirsty for war news. As I write this on Tuesday, I just looked at our Web site online poll and found the vast majority of participants say they are not getting enough war news.

I suspect they are counting on those non-existent all-news radio stations in the valley.