20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States

Larry Holzwarth - September 10, 2018

Today news – much of it presented as opinion rather than the relating of facts – is available 24 hours a day on several television channels. In the United States there can be found broadcasts of news from a variety of nations, in a variety of languages, presenting a variety of viewpoints, at any time of the day or night. This is a relatively new phenomena of television which began in the late twentieth century. Before CNN launched on the first day of June, 1980, the idea of a twenty-four hour a day broadcast of nothing but news was unheard of, and its founder, Ted Turner was regarded as taking an unwarranted risk in attempting such an enterprise.

Only twenty years earlier, televised news was still in its infancy, with the three main networks in the United States competing with each other and with evening newspapers to present the pressing issues of the day to their audiences. Twenty years after CNN went on the air, evening newspapers had all but vanished in the United States, and even the morning papers in most major cities found themselves unable to compete with the twenty-four hour a day broadcasts and up to the minute reporting at online news sites and on social media. Whether one was of liberal viewpoint or conservative, the criticism of news as reported on television became another factor in the polarization of American society.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Douglas Edwards, CBS News in 1952. CBS

Here is how televised news in America evolved over the decades to the juggernaut it became in the twenty-first century.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
NBC entered the television news business by simulcasting radio broadcasts from Lowell Thomas. NBC

1. Televised news began before America entered the Second World War

Before the Second World War Americans gathered their news from radio and newspapers. All major cities and most small towns had morning and evening newspapers, frequently several of them, and all of them published multiple editions throughout the day. Radio broadcasts often read these newspapers on the air, and supplemented them with additional breaking information. Chicago’s WGN – a call sign which stands for World’s Greatest Newspaper – was owned by the same company which owned the Chicago Tribune, for example, and the two news outlets supplemented each other on air and in print. Editorial slant in reporting the news was inevitable.

Television entered the news business in 1940, when New York’s WNBT (today’s WNBC) simulcast Lowell Thomas’s nightly NBC Radio broadcast. The program lasted but a few months and was available only in the city of New York and its outlying areas. In 1941, WCBT (WCBS today) went on the air with daily news broadcasts, the first in mid-afternoon and the second at 7.30 PM, with the news read by Richard Hubbell. There was no film, no video, no on-site reporting, and little in the way of graphics, other than an occasional reference to a map, which was placed on an easel behind the news reader. Occasionally it was replaced by a photograph. The war in Europe was a major source of reporting, as it was on the radio.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
After reports of the raid on Pearl Harbor were telecast on December 7, 1941, the war temporarily suspended development of televised news. US Navy

2. Pearl Harbor changed television news

Before the Second World War most American television stations, which were yet to be affiliated in networks, severely limited their broadcasting hours. In many American cities television stations remained dark on Sundays, giving their on-air staffs a day off, and allowing maintenance of equipment not possible when broadcasting. Those that did go on the air often simply presented old movies. One such station was New York’s WNBT, which was broadcasting a film on the afternoon of December 7, 1941, to its limited audience. For the first time in history, an American scheduled broadcast was interrupted to present the audience with breaking news when Ray Forrest, whose primary job was reading commercials, announced the reports of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

There was little news to announce. The Army and Navy immediately imposed restrictions which curtailed the release of information, and rumors of a great naval battle between the American and Japanese fleets quickly spread, on the radio and in the newspapers as well as on television, which got most of its information from those two sources. Few television stations had their own news gathering resources. WCBT, which was normally dark on Sunday, went on the air that evening with a report of the attack and the aftermath, again with little to go on other than the news reported earlier in the day. The live, unscripted news broadcasts of December 7, 1941, were the first of their kind in the history of American television.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
American war correspondents – Walter Cronkite among them – prepare for a bombing mission at RAF Bovington in 1943. USAAF

3. World War Two shut down most television news

The technicians and engineers responsible for the broadcasting of television programs were in high demand during the Second World War, to support the war effort both in active duty in the services and in the support of America’s industrial effort. The manufacturing of television sets and consumer radios was suspended, with companies such as RCA and Crosley retooling their factories to manufacture war materials. Television cameras of the day were high maintenance, difficult to operate, and during the war impossible to repair due to the lack of available parts. Those television stations which remained on the air usually simply broadcast movies during the early years of American involvement in the war.

Nearly all the major newspapers and press organizations such as UPI had their own war correspondents, whose reports were censored by the military, and many of them became famous in television news following the war, Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney being just two. In 1944 television news returned in New York, when WCBT went back on the air with fifteen minute news broadcasts read by Ned Calmer. As with the news about the war from the correspondents overseas, reports were censored by the government and military. Most Americans still got their news from their trusted local newspapers and radio programs, and television was still entirely dependent on those two sources for the information it broadcast to its viewers.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
John Cameron Swayze, on the set of Camel News Caravan in 1955, was required by the sponsor, Camel cigarettes, to smoke during the broadcast. NBC

4. Early scheduled television newscasts were only fifteen minutes in duration

After World War Two television in general grew quickly. American cities expanded into the suburbs, and the new houses where the baby boomers grew up quickly became equipped with television sets. In 1946 WCBT became WCBS and the beginnings of the CBS television network emerged. In 1948, Douglas Edwards, a veteran of CBS radio, launched the first regularly schedule nightly television news broadcast which was not a simulcast of a radio program. The CBS Television News was broadcast each weeknight at 7.30 PM, a fifteen minute recap of the day’s top stories, broadcast from New York City. NBC had a news program on the air earlier than CBS, but it was simply a film broadcast with a narration, a la newsreels seen in theaters.

NBC quickly joined the nightly news game, with the Camel News Caravan, featuring John Cameron Swayze and sponsored by Camel cigarettes. The program went on the air in February 1949, and when Camel cut back its sponsorship to only three days a week, was called the Camel News Caravan on those days and the Plymouth News Caravan (for Plymouth automobiles) on the days it was sponsored by that company. The program allowed Swayze to serve as an anchor and introduce filmed stories by reporters, including a young reporter from Wilmington, North Carolina named David Brinkley. The Camel News Caravan quickly eclipsed their CBS competition, and became the most watched news program until 1955.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Edward R. Murrow meets with the new president, Lyndon Johnson, in December 1963. LBJ Presidential Library

5. The weekly news show emerged in the early 1950s

Edward R. Murrow was a veteran news reporter and radio broadcaster who became internationally known from his broadcasts from London during the Second World War. Murrow was a veteran of twenty-five bombing missions over Europe, during which he recorded his observations for radio broadcast at a later time, after its approval by the military censors. After the war Murrow was both an executive with CBS and an on air radio reporter who contributed occasional editorials at the end of television newscasts. He also hosted the radio program Hear It Now, which aired investigational programs on CBS Radio. In 1951 Morrow moved the program to television, retitled See It Now.

See It Now became one of the most influential news programs in television history, the seed from which sprang 60 Minutes, 20/20, and numerous other investigative news shows and specials. See It Now was instrumental in exposing to the public the demagoguery of Senator Joseph McCarthy, using footage of McCarthy himself in hearings and interviews which revealed the anti-communist hysteria which the Senator had largely created with his own mind, damaging the reputations and careers of civil servants needlessly, with no evidence to support his accusations. Morrow’s penchant for taking on controversial subjects and creating controversy of his own led to the program ending in 1958.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Broadcasting from two cities, with David Brinkley in Washington and Chet Huntley in New York, the Huntley-Brinkley Report replaced the Camel News Caravan in 1956. NBC

6. The evening news began to gain importance for the networks

In 1956 the Camel News Caravan was replaced on NBC by a fifteen minute news broadcast featuring two anchors, Chet Huntley in New York and David Brinkley in Washington. The removal of the popular John Cameron Swayze drew criticism, even President Eisenhower commented unfavorably, and the new show lost much of the Camel News Caravan’s audience to CBS. By 1958 the show had recovered much of the lost audience, largely due to the crisp, sardonic writing style of David Brinkley, who reported mostly on the political scene in Washington DC. Chet Huntley concentrated on the national, international, and business news. The show retained the fifteen minute format until 1963, when it followed CBS in expanding the broadcast to a half hour.

Although they were locked together in the public mind, Huntley and Brinkley seldom saw each other, remaining for the most part in separate cities. During the 1960s space race neither anchor was particularly interested in covering the manned missions, and the program lost viewers to the space enthusiast Walter Cronkite on CBS. The Huntley-Brinkley Report nonetheless was one of the first news programs to prove profitable for its network, with advertising revenues which exceeded those of NBC’s prime time programs when compared individually. The team remained a fixture of the network’s lineup until it disbanded upon Huntley’s retirement in 1970.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
During Douglas Edwards’ tenure as anchor at CBS, the evening news broadcast expanded to the West Coast. CBS

7. CBS begins broadcasting to the West Coast

CBS continued its fifteen minute nightly newscast under the title Douglas Edwards With the News through the 1950s. One of the signature events of the decade was the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Without videotape or live satellite feeds, the event was recorded on film, flown to New York for processing, and broadcast that evening with commentary provided. As the 1950s wore on, the CBS newscast steadily lost viewers to the competition at NBC, with ABC news usually falling short of both competing networks (ABC entered television news in 1953). In the early 1960s CBS began casting around for a new news reporter, and settled on former UPI correspondent Walter Cronkite.

During the tenure of Douglas Edwards, CBS pioneered the use of videotape in order to record the broadcast on the East Coast for a time delayed broadcast of the program in the same time slot on the West Coast. Earlier, in 1951, the program was broadcast for the first time in the west through the use of a coaxial cable which connected New York to California. Edwards’ greeted his audience by referring to “everyone, coast to coast” to open his broadcasts, which were seen at 4.30 in the afternoon in California until the implementation of the tape delay broadcast. During Edwards’ tenure at the nightly news, from 1951 to 1962, CBS broadcast a fifteen minute Sunday night news broadcast called Up to the Minute at 11.00 PM, originally hosted by Walter Cronkite.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Walter Cronkite meets President Reagan for an interview in 1981. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

8. Walter Cronkite and CBS News

Walter Cronkite was originally a print reporter, writing for UPI as a war and foreign correspondent before joining CBS, recruited by Edward R. Murrow. Cronkite understood the need to write tightly to include the important stories in a fifteen minute broadcast, but at the same time lobbied for the expansion of the broadcast to thirty minutes after becoming the program’s anchor in April 1962. In September of the following year the program was retitled The CBS Evening News when it expanded to the thirty minute format (which caused many CBS affiliates to expand their local news programs, creating an hour of news in the early evening).

Cronkite’s long experience as a writer for the wire services and CBS’s willingness to expand the budget for its flagship news program helped the network develop a reputation for quality reporting and writing as the 1960s unfurled, and by 1967 it surpassed its rival at NBC, The Huntley-Brinkley Report in audience. Cronkite’s enthusiastic support of the American space program, which was clearly conveyed to his viewers, also helped boost the network’s ratings at a time in which America’s astronauts were national heroes, as celebrated as movie and television stars. But it was another, seminal event for television news, which triggered its growth as an American icon.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
The announcement that John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas was accompanied by this card, as the CBS cameras were prepared to go on the air. CBS

9. The Kennedy assassination boosted televised news

On November 22, 1963, as CBS was broadcasting a soap opera, Walter Cronkite announced that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. The report was made over a slide announcing a special bulletin, as the CBS cameras weren’t ready. Within minutes the three major networks were on the air, and for the next four days broadcast almost exclusively live coverage of events as they transpired. The nation was riveted to its television screens. The newspapers were scooped at every turn as the television networks, relying on their own correspondents and those of their affiliates, presented on ongoing saga. When Jackie Kennedy disembarked from Air Force One, still wearing her blood spattered clothes, the nation saw it live.

Lee Harvey Oswald’s comments to the press were broadcast as he made them, as were the comments of the Dallas Chief of Police. Those Americans not in church on Sunday, November 24, witnessed Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on live television if they were watching NBC, and the chaos which ensued. Although tapes and films of Kennedy’s career were shown, for the most part the networks remained focused on the events as they occurred, and the power of television news was revealed as never before. The coverage of the Kennedy assassination, its aftermath, and the late president’s funeral was watched by 93% of Americans according to Nielsen, and the network news divisions discovered the powerful influence they held over the country.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Television news brought the Vietnam War into American households on a nightly basis. Library of Congress

10. The Vietnam War was seen on television nightly

Unlike the wars which preceded it, the American involvement in the war in Vietnam was broadcast on the evening news of all three American major networks, with extensive coverage beginning in 1965. In the early days of TV coverage the reports were typically upbeat in nature, and the events presented about five days old by the time they were seen on television screens in America, due to the need to have the film processed and edited before broadcasting at a time when all three major networks broadcast primarily from New York. While many blame the newscasts of the time for being unsupportive of the American war effort and focusing on the deaths of American soldiers, most of the reporting was supportive of the troops, but skeptical of their leaders.

The protests against the war received increasing coverage as they increased, which angered and still angers those who believed them to be anti-American. Television presented the war at all levels as it occurred, and with the war in American living rooms in one form or another on a nightly basis there was no escaping from its divisiveness in American society. After it became apparent following the release of the Pentagon Papers that the weekly body counts, presented to reporters on Thursdays, were exaggerated by American leaders at the highest levels in Vietnam, the clear majority of Americans supported the United States getting out of Vietnam.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Dave Garroway (with microphone) on the set of Today, which combined news headlines and entertainment, in 1952. RCA

11. News programs increased throughout the 1950s and 1960s

With all three major networks featuring a half hour nightly news broadcast (though ABC didn’t expand to a half hour until 1967) other shows produced by their respective news divisions appeared steadily. The first network morning news program, NBC’s Today, first broadcast in 1952 blending news headlines with entertainment and interviews. In its early days Today was seen only in the Eastern half of the country, the Mountain and Pacific time zones did not receive the program until 1958. Beginning that same year the program was taped in the afternoon for broadcast the following day, which continued until 1961, when it resumed live broadcasts.

Today had little competition for many years, other than local news broadcasts. Not until 1975 would ABC launch a morning news show, AM America, which focused on the news of the day and did not find an audience. ABC revamped the format to focus more on entertainment and changed the name to Good Morning America in November of that year. The new show gradually grew to challenge the venerable Today, and finally to beat it in the ratings in the 1980s. CBS tried several formats and changes for a morning news program, all of which followed the lead of Today. The morning programs gave short news presentations and focused on lighter topics, though several later evening news anchors served stints as hosts of the morning programs.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Public Broadcasting’s News Hour featured in depth interviews and stories but never drew the audience of the three major networks. Environmental Protection Agency

12. The three major networks dwarfed public broadcasting in news

In 1970 American television news was dominated by the three major networks, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Local affiliates produced news of their own focusing on the regions in which they broadcast. In 1973 the Senate held the Watergate hearings, and Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, both veteran newsmen, covered them for the Public Broadcasting System. Their award winning coverage led to the creation of the Robert MacNeil Report on New York’s WNET, followed by the MacNeil/Lehrer Report which broadcast on PBS stations around the country. In 1983 the news program expanded to one hour and was renamed the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. Because the program was and is broadcast on public television, there are no commercial breaks.

As with most media outlets in the United States the program was accused of being biased to the left by conservatives, and to the right by liberals. Independent studies have placed the broadcast in a more centrist position. By the late 1990s almost all public broadcast stations in the United States carried the News Hour, and it was broadcast in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and across the world on the American Forces Network. It is also broadcast on the Voice of America. Despite its popularity around the world the News Hour never threatened the dominance of the three major network’s news programs, which continued to broadcast in the half hour format for regularly scheduled broadcasts, only expanding their programs under exceptional circumstances.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Ted Turner (right) with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in 2015. Wikimedia

13. The growth of cable changed the production of news broadcasts

As television grew in the 1950s, the availability of free over the air broadcast content nearly drove the nascent cable systems out of business. Cable systems could only operate profitably in areas where there was little over the air content to be had. In 1976 Ted Turner created the first system now known as basic cable so that he could watch the Atlanta Braves, which he owned at the time, while he was at his yacht club in Marblehead. By the 1980s cable systems were growing around the United States, offering programming not limited to the choices presented by the three major networks, syndicated UHF stations, and public broadcasting. Network news programs faced a new challenge as the broadcast networks lost viewers.

Turner had another challenge for the networks in mind, which he launched in 1980. Cable News Network, known as CNN, was introduced on June 1, 1980, broadcasting for the first time at 5.00 PM Eastern Daylight Time. Turner promised that the network would remain on the air, broadcasting around the clock nothing but news and news related special programming, until the end of the world. Two years later a companion station, designated CNN2 and later named CNN Headline News, joined in the twenty-four hour a day news broadcasting. Within thirty years of its inception CNN was delivered to 100 million homes in the United States, and its programming was delivered by CNN International to 212 nations around the globe.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
CNN became a major news outlet after fortuitous circumstances put it in the forefront during Operation Desert Storm in January, 1991. USAF

14. CNN became a major player in 1991

For the first decade of its existence, CNN lagged behind the three major networks as a source for news. Most Americans preferred the known anchors and reporters of the three over the air news sources even as they too became available on cable systems. In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the American response, Operation Desert Shield, a coalition of 35 nations, was deployed to Saudi Arabia. When Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm beginning with the bombing raids of January 16, 1991, CNN had three reporters inside the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, at the al-Rashid hotel. The three, Peter Arnett, John Holliman, and Bernard Shaw, were able to send live reports, but no pictures, of the events they were seeing.

The reports on CNN were picked up by other news outlets and rebroadcast around the world, giving the network a credibility that it had up to then lacked in the eyes of many potential viewers. The reports from Baghdad were the first time that a major military action was reported to viewers as it happened, rather than subsequent to its occurrence, by reporters on the scene live. NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw asked questions of the trio while the bombing continued. The Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, admitted that he received information regarding the accuracy of some of the coalition bombing from the three CNN reporters. It was estimated that CNN’s scoop was watched by up to one billion viewers worldwide.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
Eleanor Roosevelt on Meet the Press, broadcast from New York City in 1956. National Archives

15. Sunday morning news programming

In 1945 the Mutual Broadcasting System introduced a radio program entitled American Mercury Presents: Meet the Press. Sponsored by the American Mercury Magazine, the program’s television rights were bought by General Foods, which renamed the program simply Meet the Press when it began broadcasting it on NBC. In its original format, hosted by Martha Rountree, a single guest was questioned on the issues by a panel. The program has been on the air ever since, though with considerable changes in format. In 1954 it faced its first competition in the Sunday panel discussion format from CBS when that network launched Face the Nation. The first guest to appear on the CBS program was Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.

ABC countered with a similar show of its own in 1960 which was called Issues and Answers. Although the show went through several hosts during its 21 year existence it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons, with many affiliates delaying its air time or not airing it at all, replacing it with local broadcasting. In 1981 the show was dropped from ABC’s lineup and replaced with the hour long This Week with David Brinkley. Brinkley’s show was more successful than the long running Issues and Answers in terms of reaching an audience, and presented news headlines before delving into the interviews and panel discussions which marked all of the Sunday news discussion programs.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
A local Eyewitness News team, this one from Chicago’s WLS-TV, in 1972. WLS TV

16. Local news formatting became indistinguishable across the United States

Virtually all local news produced in the United States was developed by a station’s own news department, and the format for the news programs were similar. Nearly all focused on local news headlines, covering national stories only from the angle of how they affect the local audience. Nearly all of them contained a quick look at weather early in the broadcast as a teaser, with a more in-depth weather report later in the program. Weather became a critical part of local news broadcasts beginning in the 1960s. Many larger communities included traffic reports, especially during morning broadcasts, and local sports was covered by most stations. The format; news, weather, sports, became ubiquitous across the country.

Most stations advertised their local news programs heavily, far more than the national news broadcasts, and focused on the accuracy of their weather forecasts. While local news often worked with local newspapers through the 1970s, the practice gradually faded with the demise of newspapers across the country, especially afternoon papers. The majority of local news stations developed websites beginning in the early 1990s, most of which later placed much of their coverage behind a paywall. Nationally, local news was limited to between five and seven hours per day, though some stations provided more, and many operated other stations which repeated and extended the newscasts from the parent station.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
A CNN crew prepares for an interview, its first ever satellite feed from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in 2002. USAF

17. The twenty-four-hour channels expand

After CNN introduced the concept of news available and repeating twenty-four hours a day the concept expanded to the topics often covered by local news channels; weather, sports, and business. The national networks joined in the rush for round the clock coverage, and networks such as MSNBC, NBCSN, CBS Sports Net, ESPN and its rash of sister networks, Fox News, the Weather Channel, and countless more emerged. Where up to the 1970s most stations signed off overnight, and those that didn’t usually relied on old programming overnight, by the middle of the decade overnight broadcasting was the norm. By the end of the twentieth century few channels signed off, and the test pattern was relegated to history.

News reporting on the 24 hour channels was replaced in many instances with opinion programs interlaced with occasional reports of breaking news by news correspondents, or reduced to a crawler at the bottom or top of the screen, which gave updates on current stories while the on-air personality opined on one subject or another. Nearly all news channels deservedly developed a reputation for political slant, created by the stars of the network, and television news began to become distrusted, other than that of the network which presented an opinion favorable to that of the viewer. Where once the networks were required to clearly announce when they were expressing an opinion, rather than a fact, whole programs appeared as news where the material presented was not factually supported.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
An about to be deployed US sailor is interviewed by a local news reporter, in this case in San Diego. Local news broadcasts are virtually the same in format across the United States. US Navy

18. The news on television became franchised in the 1990s

Local stations began the concept of franchising their news organizations in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. In virtually all local areas, which were and are referred to as Designated Market Areas, there developed competing news organizations labeled with tags including Eyewitness News, Action News, Breaking News, and so on. The concept of Eyewitness News, and its style of reporting, was developed by Westinghouse Broadcasting in the 1960s. Reporters filed filmed stories and then appeared alongside the local anchor to answer one or two questions regarding the story and potential aftermath. The anchor invariably closed the segment with a comment regarding the story’s importance or the quality of the reporting.

The format first appeared at a Westinghouse Broadcasting owned station in Philadelphia, and was later brought to New York. By the 1990s the Eyewitness News format was included in one of the competing local broadcasters in almost all designated market areas and was widely advertised on the station as well as on billboards, mass transit facilities, and local newspapers and magazines. Competing variations to the format, such as Action News, were developed for other stations within the DMA. The Action News format was designed for shorter stories and more of them, producing a faster paced broadcast. The Action News format, with varying names and logo styles, remained less popular than Eyewitness News in local reporting.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
News magazine format programs have been popular since Edward R. Murrow’s See it Now in the 1950s. Wikimedia

19. Televised news magazines created a new market

Although many consider the CBS news magazine program 60 Minutes to be the father of the format, similar programs existed during television’s infancy. In fact news magazine style programs were some of the most popular on the air with the networks’ prime time lineups until the explosion of the game shows in the 1950s. The news magazines allowed professional journalists to investigate and prepare reports on both major issues and lesser known problems and stories for national broadcast. As more and more of the professionally trained print journalists completed their careers and retired the line of demarcation between journalism and entertainment became blurred on many such shows.

Tabloid journalism appeared on television as well, with programs such as Hard Copy, Inside Edition, and A Current Affair. As with their supermarket tabloid counterparts, such programs focused on sensationalism and innuendo, presenting stories which featured celebrities and entertainment news, and often reported on missing persons and supposed investigative links. By the end of the twentieth century, talk shows claiming links to journalism were increasingly popular in the United States (and around the world). Also similarly to their print tabloid counterparts, some of the programs were frequently the targets of lawsuits alleging defamation of character by irate celebrities.

20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States
President Carter holds a press conference. By the twenty-first century the majority of the “press” represented television and electronic media. National Archives

20. Television news continued to evolve

By the early twenty-first century nearly all television news organizations maintained web sites and presence on social media, both to tout their news coverage and to enhance it, along with interacting with their audience. Many reporters and news anchors maintained separate online sites of their own. Television news, which was once limited to just a few minutes a day, came to dominate the coverage, with even traditional network broadcasts receiving brief news updates on the hour several times a day. News magazine programs maintained sites of their own, providing viewers with expanded coverage of aired stories, along with updates when warranted.

Television newscasts, including sports and weather, came to be streamed on devices of all sorts, and the availability of access to news became instant at all times, day or night. At the same time the differing viewpoints of news organizations, and more importantly their owners, brought an air of suspicion which wasn’t present in the early days of television, when Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Howard K. Smith, Eric Sevareid, and the other pioneers of the industry were all ranked highly in the public trust. It became difficult to separate facts from opinions, unbiased reporting from politically driven viewpoints. Even those networks dedicated to sports reporting became subject to suspicion of political bias by viewers, and the messenger frequently surpassed the message.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“So Long Until Tomorrow”. Lowell Thomas. 1977

“Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism”. Edward Bliss. 1991

“The Origins of Television News in America: The Visualizers of CBS in the 1940s”. Mike Conway. 2009

“The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor”. Barbara Matusow. 1983

“The World On His Back”. Charles Wertenbaker, The New Yorker. December 26, 1953

“David Brinkley: A Memoir”. David Brinkley. 1996

“Celebrating Douglas Edwards, a CBS Legend”. CBS News. July 13, 2017. Online

“The Legend of Walter Cronkite”. Louis Menand, The New Yorker. July 9, 2012

“The Four Days That Made TV News”. Steven D. Stark, American Heritage Magazine. May/June 1997

“The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam”. Daniel C. Hallin. 1989.

“A New Dawn for Today”. Glen Dickson, Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. August 21, 2006

“PBS News Hour History”. Public Broadcasting System. Online

“The Lost Tycoon”. Ken Auletta, The New Yorker. April 23, 2001

“Ted Turner: It Ain’t as Easy as it Looks: The Amazing Story of CNN”. Porter Bibb. 1996

“How CNN Won A Battle For A Phone Line”. Dennis McDougal, The Los Angeles Times. January 25, 1991

“Meet the Press at 70: Putting presidents and the powerful on the spot every Sunday”. Steve Hendrix, The Washington Post. November 5, 2017

“Power Producing: A Practical Guide to TV News Producing”. Dow Smith. 2002

“Viewers Continuing to Flock to Cable News Networks”. Felix Gillette, The New York Observer. October 1, 2008

“Eyewitness News”. Micheal D. Murray, entry in the Encyclopedia of Television News. 1999

“60 Minutes: The Power and the Politics of America’s Most Popular TV News Show”. Axel Madsen. 1984

“Why Do Americans Distrust the Media?” Derek Thompson, The Atlantic. September 16, 2016