I hope we’ve all had enough of speculative reporting. I have. It isn’t just cable news, it’s the major national dailies as well that have been obsessed with reporting on news that has not yet happened by speculating about what it might, possibly, probably will be, or not. Reporting has been followed by op.ed. pundits ruminating about the possible meaning of future events, maybe, most likely, or not.
In the several weeks before the midterms, I gave up on cable news. For news about what was actually happening, or had happened recently, I kept to The Guardian, BBC World News and NPR. A couple of local t.v. news programs did quite well with actual local events that mattered. Lester Holt did a pretty good job of sticking to the events of the day, not the potential outcomes of those yet two weeks off.
Quality news journalism is more than “just the facts, ma’am,” although it must be grounded in them. Relevant conditions, circumstances, known effects, and moral issues at stake are essential to presenting a full story to the public. That’s different from wandering into the morass of fortune telling pretending to be reporting.
In like manner, punditry from well informed observers of the national scene is helpful in assessing the deeper meaning of events, especially as they relate to history e.g. American values, the common good, and interests of various parts of society and economy. Prognostications of potential meaning of possible future events is more harmful than useless. It’s but one step away from falling into the conspiracy cesspool.
Cable news has a lot of air to fill, but there have to be better alternatives to speculative reporting and opining. What might they be? Perhaps informed reviews of appropriate American history events that would help inform current events; or maybe segments on basic civics and the responsibilities of citizenship; what about segments covering the Constitution article by article, amendment by amendment? The same might be said for important court cases leading to current events. Producers would no doubt object that they already do that. No they don’t. Cable news gives the occasional expert fifteen seconds here and there to say a sentence or two, that’s it. They might say that if I want more, I should find Amanpour & Co., wherever she has been hidden on PBS. That’s evasion. I think they have the idea that if they don’t sensationalize the news, or add cliff hanger drama to it, the public won’t buy it. All of that on the grounds that it’s hard to underestimate the intellectual appetites of the American public. That’s arrogant snobbishness at its ignorant worst.
I wonder if reflection on the long, boring “news” run-up to the midterms will cause producers, publishers and editors to reevaluate their products, and resolve to give them more substantial value. It seems unlikely. Rats, there I go speculating. Let’s call it hope without much evidence of it being met.