Voltaire said “In the case of news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.”

Truer words were never spoken. However, having the patience to wait for anything in today’s world is at best a fleeting human characteristic.

In the early days of print media it was common practice to go to print twice daily, with a morning and evening edition. The young networks of the early fifties followed suit to report twice and sometimes three times daily. This enabled time for corroboration of facts, as well as for the story to evolve, as numerous reports were filed by thousands of reporters daily. The standard was that at least one credible source, on the record, was required for a story to get approved by the editor. All segments were 30 minutes.

Fast forward forty years as we were all mesmerized in the early nineties when CNN had constant news coverage of the first Gulf War, and we as a nation along with the entire world, were hooked and would never be the same. For the first time, the news wasn’t relegated to a 30-minute broadcast. That’s not to say that the networks didn’t have special reports which broke into regularly scheduled programming. However, 24-hour uninterrupted coverage was something new.

Bernard Shaw, a first-rate newsman with impeccable instincts, set the standard for all future cable news outlets. He said, “The broadcasting difference between Vietnam and Gulf War coverage was fated with the inception of satellite.”

Immediate and instant gratification! Today’s news cycle is reported to be every 15 minutes, which is the first major difference between what I call the golden years of news and what we experience today. Hardly enough time to digest one story before the next new shiny thing appears. This also creates less time for the public to compare other reports, in order to develop a consensus for the facts or lack thereof.

Today, another major difference is that every network seems to have its own agenda. Although that may be nothing new, it is more obvious today and we as consumers have accepted and embraced it. Today, the journalistic mantra seems to be, “I have my reality and you have yours.” When did omissions, which are every bit as detrimental to fair and balanced news as are outright falsehoods, become acceptable? What will fix this broken model? Certainly not governmental interference. New commitments to adhere to higher standards might be a good start. In the end, it’s up to us the consumers to demand a better product in journalism.

Craig Willis writes from St. Michaels.

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