24-hour news networks have unsavory side effects


The recent days of media coverage in the capture of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings has put the best and worst of 24-hour-news networks’ coverage on display.

While the networks were able to disseminate real time information, via television, social media and their websites, that was important for public safety, many other far less savory elements about the practices of 24-hour-news came to light.

As the nation watched networks such as CNN scurry to be the first to present facts, at times at the compromise of accurate information, the 24-hour-news network became less a reliable source of updates than simply a constant source of white noise. As commentators squabbled on air about “the facts” they knew and experts extrapolated beyond to the facts that might be, the nation tuned in.

With an almost voyeuristic sense of involvement, the nation was plugged in to watch the largest scale manhunt in recent history — one that even the best TV drama couldn’t recreate, and many news networks covered as if it was indeed a TV drama. After the capture, tweets of “We got him!” and “Captured!” trended across the Internet after the media’s mostly important coverage led viewers to believe that they too had accomplished the great feat of capturing of a the suspect in the horrific acts.

But perhaps more troubling is the power that these networks have in constructing the narrative of what becomes news and what passes through the news. The constant need to fill in air-time, even when there is little else to talk about on a subject, led to excessive time devoted to speculation about the same subject,leading to a sense of elated hysteria that was disproportionate to the actual threat to public safety outside the Boston area that the suspect was causing.

While at times, this is important in creating discussion on important subjects within people in the country, at times this narrative can be unhealthy in its framing, particularly when fact-checking and verification are thrown to the wayside to beat other news outlets.