Back then, most people got their news twice a day, from their morning newspaper and during the evening television newscast. When television programming was interrupted for breaking news during the day, it had to be something pretty significant. Otherwise, you waited until the end of the day.

The growth in popularity of cable television in the ‘80s brought with it the first 24-hour news channel. At the time it seemed like a great idea, since that the mandatory wait was over. If you wanted to check the news, you could.

But the problem with all-day news is that on days when it is a slow news day, the network still has to find something to talk about. The time has to be filled and that is when misinformation is most likely to occur.

This misinformation may come in the form of an eyewitness account or an interview with a family member of a suspect, whatever it takes to fill the space until the next update can be given.

Add to that the emergence of other 24-hour news stations, and the competition to be first with a story, and the result is a compromise to the integrity of the industry. Being first usually does not translate into being correct.

Now we have both professional and amateur journalists online contributing to these stories. The information is instantaneous and splayed, and somehow we expect the people sitting behind the anchor desk while on television to absorb, filter and accurately report this information immediately.

That’s unrealistic and unfair. Yet as an audience, we demanded instant updates from Boston and we damned everyone that wasn’t perfect. 

We can’t have it all in this infancy of New Media. A friend taught me a theory on this very topic just days ago. She said everyone wants everything to be fast, cheap and good. But it’s impossible for anything to be all three — only two of the three can be achieved at once.

So we as an audience have to choose which two qualities we want out of news, and if fast and good are those choices, we have to be willing to pay top dollar for that privilege.

I am never comfortable beginning any sentence with “back in my day” since my day served only as building blocks to the present. Social media is not a passing phase, and online access and information is of vital importance for any news outlet to survive.

The skeptics have to know that access to information must be our first priority as a society, even if it sometimes means that erroneous information gets through. But we all must realize that we are never going to get the full story in the first day or two after an event.

To truly understand the events that happen in our world, we have to find the patience for journalists to not simply tell us a story, but tell us the real story.

People believed Mr. Cronkite when he finished his broadcasts with, “And that’s the way it is.” We should strive to allow our news people to be that universally trustworthy again.

 


Melissa Carter is also a writer for Huffington Post. She broke ground as the first out lesbian radio personality on a major station in Atlanta and was one of the few out morning show personalities in the country. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCarter

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