By Harry McCracken | Monday, May 2, 2011 at 9:15 am
For eons now, I’ve been struggling with a question that some of you have been confronting, too: is the Web a rich enough source of information and entertainment that I can get rid of cable TV service? So far, I haven’t cut the cable, and I keep saying that one big reason why is the usefulness of continuous TV news coverage of really big stories. But stories don’t get much bigger than yesterday’s discovery and killing of Osama Bin Laden. And the TV coverage I saw didn’t make a great case for cable being indispensable.
In the time before President Obama made his address, I mostly watched NBC News and CNN. Nobody who wasn’t involved in the operation knew much about it at this point, so the anchors on these channels mostly tapdanced to fill time. They told us, over and over again, that this was huge news. (Really?) But they didn’t even ask many of the questions I was asking–such as “how about al-Zawahiri?”–let alone attempt to answer them. The screen was full of talking heads, but they were saying very little.
Even after the president spoke, the analysis seemed thin–I didn’t hear anything as smart as, say, James Fallows’ impressions over at the Atlantic.
TV coverage thrives when it can show something, and this news was about an event it couldn’t show. The one thing that it showed that was worth seeing were the crowds at Ground Zero, the White House, and elsewhere.
The TV analysis got better as the night went on, but it took surprisingly long for that to happen. By the time it did, some of the continuous coverage wasn’t so continuous anymore. (NBC, for instance, went back to the more weighty matters of Celebrity Apprentice.)
Between blogs and news sites, the Web was far more adept at reacting to yesterday’s developments. And some of the TV coverage that’s worth watching is traveling from TV to Web: for instance, I just watched ABC News’s footage inside the compound, but I did so in embedded form on a blog.
(I also used Twitter and Facebook last night; in fact, I learned about the news from Twitter, before CNN.com mentioned it on its home page.)
TV does retain some advantages over the Web for these kinds of events:
Virtues like that are one reason why I’m still dithering about whether to cut the cord or not. But from now on, I won’t reflexively argue that TV does continuous breaking news better than the Web; I’ll remember yesterday night, when it didn’t.
(Full disclosure: as part of Technologizer’s business relationship with TIME.com, we’re technically part of the CNN.com network.)