Television and the Return of TV News

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In 2021, waiting until the nine o’clock news to turn on the TV and find out the events of the day seems like a quaint, outdated activity. With various news apps on your smartphone giving you constant breaking news updates and social media sites like Twitter feeding you every possible fact or opinion on an event in real-time; this leisurely approach to consuming news is difficult to maintain in the modern world. With access to so many first-hand accounts, as well as comments from a wealth of experts on any topic, at your fingertips, there has been much debate over the past few years about traditional forms of newsgathering, such as TV news channels, becoming obsolete. With news of various levels of magnitude breaking almost hourly on Twitter, these legacy media channels often appear to be scrambling to keep up. Despite all this, when news of the pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol in Washington DC broke on Wednesday evening, my family found ourselves fervently watching CNN’s live coverage as if we were huddled around the wireless waiting for news on the home front during WWII.

President Trump's face in the screens of many old-fashioned television sets
TV News channels reported their highest viewership the day that a violent pro-Trump terrorist mob stormed the Capitol building in Washinton D.C.
Source: NBC News

As it turned out, we were not the only ones. CNN reported that the January 6, 2021 was their most-watched day ever, with 5.221 million total viewers tuning in, surpassing even their recent presidential election figures. Despite the rise of digital news sources, 2020 (and what we have seen of 2021) has shown that TV news is still a powerful rival to the more modern forms of news consumption. When CNN was founded in 1980 they were at the vanguard of this new form of 24 hour TV news, heralding in an era characterised by rolling news coverage cutting to live segments with reporters on location. Now that everyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can be a live reporter on location broadcasting to the world, this reign of the big TV news channels appeared to be waning.

At least, this is what I might have said in 2019, but something about the chaos that is 2020 seems to have changed our news habits once more. Moving back into my parents house after years of student houses meant cohabiting with an actual television set again. With the UK Government’s propensity toward trickling out scraps of information regarding coronavirus restrictions through individual journalists’ Twitter accounts, I found myself preferring instead to tune in to Boris’ press conferences for some much-needed clarity. During the US presidential election in November, the CNN anchors and their ‘magic wall’ began to feel like close personal friends to me and many others.

Perhaps the sheer volume of newsworthy events this year has caused such fatigue that people are returning to more passive news habits. Perhaps the slowing down of so many aspects of our lives due to lockdown is beginning to reflect in our relationship to the news we consume. Or, perhaps the world has become so complicated and overwhelming that we simply cannot piece information together without the help of professional journalists anymore.

Either way, we can no longer confidently claim that TV news is a thing of the past.

Words by Ellen McVeigh

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