Walter Lippmann defined the role of the press in 1922 as "the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode then another out of darkness into vision." For over 20 years, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings acted as civics teachers to over 30 million news watchers on hot and slow news nights. By covering the big picture, viewers were presented with compelling news stories that concentrated on the issues which affected people's lives. The presence of network anchors was important on big stories, it was explained.

Doug Anderson of the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University observed, "Most readers don't think in terms of slow news days because they don’t make the same distinction journalists do between breaking news and other kinds of stories. When I was a working journalist, I dreaded slow news days. Now (in 1996) I see them as an opportunity for more interesting, reflective stories to be reported."

Peter Jennings made the observation, "Part of our job every day is to make choices about what we put on the newscast. Let us not pretend to the public that we are objective. We try to be objective, but mostly we try to be fair. The country doesn’t always respond, but part of the traditional function of journalists has been to look into the darker corners."

Tom Brokaw maintained, "The criticism in the past has been that network anchormen spend all their time in an ivory tower in New York. I think there is a danger (if) the anchorman thinks he is a walking spotlight and that wherever he is, (that’s) the story of the day. It (TV) does change the equation. I’ve always felt I have a real obligation to the audience to be the place where they can turn to for information, to get them through the day."

At one time, Dan Rather recalled, "Five years ago (in 1981), we got out of Washington because we wanted to keep up with the technology. Now (in 1986) we don’t have to do Washington stories just out of necessity. We can take you to the place where those decisions have an immediate effect." Timothy Russert of 'NBC News' added, "Five years from now (in 1991) the show will be practically all live, just reporting from the scene, cross-talk between anchor and correspondent and live interviews. We'll avoid taped pieces as much as possible.

"Five years ago (in 1981), who would have guessed that an election in the Philippines (Ferdinand Marcos) would capture our imagination. But, with satellites, television brought viewers into the homes, offices and minds of the principals. The same thing will happen with places even more foreign and removed than the Philippines. The world will be wired. Our anthem will be 'We are the world; we are wired.'"

Reporter Mary Jo West believed, "It (TV) serves the public best of all the mediums for its immediacy."  Av Westin brought his innovative idea to the set of 'World News Tonight' in 1978. From 1989 to 1996, more Americans got their news from 'ABC News' than from any other source as ABC campaigned to change the face of television news by making 'World News Tonight' "America's choice". Av Westin recounted in 1979, "I saw a way to improve our journalism and our ratings, too. We did it by taking advantage of developments in TV techniques, marrying these to what we considered the best elements of journalism.

"We resolved to get our correspondents to the scene first and keep them there longer than the other networks. A maximum use of the technical advances not only enables them to move more easily, it also gives them more thinking time. The business of meshing 3 different news sources – Europe, the continental United States and Washington D.C. – has built-in journalistic and practical difficulties. But because I have stayed in New York, we are able to put on a more balanced broadcast.

"This way nobody suffers from Potomac fever or Hudson River fever or even Thames River fever. Moving the anchor out of New York has paid off in a better mix of stories. We are a lot less East Coast-oriented. In fact, the number of stories out of New York has been materially reduced. Unless a story has an intrinsic New York element, it won’t come out of that city.

"Coverage emanating from other places in the nation is far more frequent than before. I have become keenly aware of taking advantage of a resource in the middle of the country. I feel we are using every known technique, electronically and journalistically, to convey a maximum of information, not to distort it. It is a broadcast of the '70s' moving into the '80s, leading the way, I think." By 1997, 'NBC News' changed its content from the 22-minute news of the day to the big picture of life in America.

Tom Brokaw elaborated, "We live now in a universe where people have access to information all day long. We have to think hard about how we can be a distinct part of that very crowded spectrum. For a long time there was a conceit in the network news that any subcommittee meeting in Washington was far more important than the changing relationship of the American family.

"The new philosophy is to not confine ourselves to the Beltway of Washington or the centers of power in European countries. There's a real disconnect between where you are in South Dakota and what's happening in Washington. A lot of people around the country have solved their problems from the ground up." Physician Paul Klite made the point in 1995, "TV can do wonders, when it broadcasts substantive information."

However "the diet of information in local TV news is unbalanced and unhealthy. There’s some coverage of government and social issues, but very little depth. There’s hardly any context. When most of the news is about disasters and murders and crimes, there’s no room for anything else." On the pages of the 'Detroit Free Press' in 1991, from Jack Duggan to May Mann, from Nancy Lisabeth to Patricia Cox, from June Hilderbrandt to Lawrence Niblett, the general consensus was:

"I want to watch news but local TV news is low-grade entertainment based on the assumption that most viewers have never mastered the basic 'Dick and Jane' readers and geared to the lowest common denominator. That’s why I’ll watch Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather and learn something. Give us the straight news. I liked it better when the news was read by ugly old men. They told us what was happening and we made up our minds about it."

News director Dave Howell expressed, "TV has trained its viewers to expect a certain level of production and sophistication. I still think there is room within that to develop a quality product, rather than a slick product." In the new media in the 1990s, newsmagazines had grabbed an amazing hold on the audience leading to 'Dateline NBC' being expanded to 5 nights a week in 1998.

On ABC, Roone Arlege told the press at a gathering, "When you have Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung, Sam Donaldson, Hugh Downs, Charlie Gibson, Forrest Sawyer, Cynthia McFadden and Chris Wallace – I’m sure I’m leaving out some – finding a way to amalgamate them is a far different problem than the other 2 networks have. Therefore it takes us longer, and we really do not want to screw it up … If war were declared at 11:00 tonight, we'd have to decide whether Peter Jennings or Ted Koppel would anchor. No other network has that problem."

Of 'Dateline NBC' expansion, Roone remarked, "'60 Minutes' is an institution in America, and deservedly so. You don’t take a program like '60 Minutes' lightly and just say, 'Let's do 5 of them,' any more than you’d take Hamlet and say, 'Hamlet's successful, let's do 6 Hamlets a week.'" Neal Shapiro begged to differ, "It's (the trend) only dangerous if you don’t continue to put out quality journalism. This is an opportunity to have more news and information programming. I would say we’re all doing basically the same kinds of stories. 'Dateline' may jump on them quicker than our competition."

As a result of 'Dateline NBC' expansion, Victor Neufeld of '20/20' admitted, "We are compelled to make our programs as interesting as possible in an environment where there are many more choices. We are searching harder and digging deeper to get stories." When 'Dateline NBC' first expanded to 3 nights a week in 1994, Neal Shapiro insisted, "(It's) not the same show 3 nights a week.

"There will be some familiar themes from night to night, but also some different departments that only air once a week. We all work for one show. I think it’s going to help is build a habit among viewers. Maybe I don’t want to air a story this Tuesday – but I don’t think it can hold a full week, or I’m afraid somebody else is going to air a similar report Friday. What do I do?"

Robert Thompson of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University made the comment in 2002, "It's almost as if 'Dateline' is the perpetual Trojan Horse. It keeps using its legitimacy as a newsmagazine to sneak in cheesy stories and at the same time, it uses its entertainment-oriented cheesiness to sneak in serious stories."

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