Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The loss of the old Nightline

I'm sure there is going to be any number of bloggers talking about Ted Koppel's last night on his signature show.

There will be those on the left who will say he didn't really hold the feet of The Powers That Be to the fire either often enough, long enough or close enough to the flames.

There will be those on the right who will say he was just a shill for the "liberal media," and that his whole show was just a means to create more advertising opportunities for the broadcasting conglomerates.

In a way, both sides will be correct -- Koppel, although independent, still had to hew to the line set by the corporate bodies who controlled the funding, so couldn't go hog-wild over some stories that I'm sure would have been the kind that people talk about as inspiring "fire in the belly" instead of "getting ulcers." And, like any other show on commercial television, it lived or died by ratings and the advertising dollars generated.

But Nightline also did something that, for its time, was unique.

It made the habit of watching a news program into the wee hours.

Not just a headline service that recycled the same stories every 30 minutes, but in-depth, researched and well written. And not written to the "we've got 3 minutes of air time for this story so we'll drop everything but the shootout and the chopper crash" standard, but written to the "if we need to, we can spend the entire show analyzing this one nuance, and get the other facets during the week."

And it worked.

Against what would have been the expectation then, once the Iran hostage crisis was past, and arguably that it was no longer the case of "America Held Hostage," America still watched the show.

The nation's viewers watched their local news & weather, figured out if they needed to put an umbrella into the car the next day, and then separated into 4 broad groups -- went to bed, watched Johnny on the Tonight Show, watched a late-night movie or Watched Nightline.

We turned into a nation of News Junkies.

Nightline took an audience that had a passing recognition of Huntley & Brinkley, or Cronkite, or may (or may not) have *heard* of Edward R Murrow, and became engaged about what was happening in the world outside their own cities.

Koppel gave an interview to Charlie Rose that was broadcast on PBS the other evening, and he compared himself to Rose, in that what he saw their jobs to be was not simply to inform, with bald facts, and film and numbers, but to add the context that gives the understanding. And all with their own very personal stamp in the commentary, and the context.

And if that sounds familiar to those of you reading, it should.

It's what Kos, Alexandra, the HeretiK, Joe Gandelman, Atrios and all the rest of us, myself included, are doing when we type these words into our computers, and publish them to the web.

So, here's a Tip-O'-The-Hat, and a raised glass, to the true Uber Blogger, Ted Koppel.

Thanks for the years, and for conditioning the world to think that the personal journalist might actually be something real.

As two of your progenitors said -- "That's the way it is," and "Good night, and Good Luck."

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