Once upon a time, Americans waited until dinnertime to find out what happened in the world that day. Then, Ted Turner had a crazy itch to scratch and everything changed. Not for the better, I’d argue.
For starters, people now tune to TV news — and to the Internet — to find out what is happening, not what happened. That almost always leads to a distorted view of things, sometimes with dangerous results. News needs time to marinate so it can be digested. We’re all eating a steady diet of raw chicken right now and it’s not healthy.
Author Lisa Napoli has taken on this complicated transition in her new book, Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News. She has lived this life. Lisa was an intern at CNN in the early days, later spending time at The New York Times, MSNBC, and Marketplace before turning to books.
In the age of Covid-19, we’re all being reminded of our high school science teachers, who would have scolded us for looking at a single moment in an experiment — like asking how a patient in a drug trial feels today — and drawing an inference from that. The entire experiment must be completed before any conclusions are made, of course.
Unfortunately, 24/7 news does not allow such perspective. We live in a constant “Blind Men and the Elephant” world now, where people from a single vantage point scream out their conclusions of the moment – a stream of meaningless, out-of-context observations that make viewers less informed for viewing. This is not to say that news pre-1980 was some kind of Shangra-la (Lisa knows something about that, too). But every day brings us more evidence that 24/7 news is not good for knowledge. Good news takes time. A little perspective, and a lot of depth, is what’s needed when trying to understand complex world events. But who has time for that?
Lisa Napoli does.
We are friends. We worked together at MSNBC for many years, at the beginning of dot com time. She brings fresh eyes and the voice of experience to CNN’s creation myth. It’s a story you read and wonder, “Why hasn’t this been done before?” As you probably know, CNN isn’t popular with many Americans today. Lisa smartly engages this group, telling them her book has a lot to offer them.
The book’s title, Up All Night, reminds us that Ted Turner was an insomniac, and his creation has since fueled 40 years’ worth of sleepless nights.
Lisa’s breezy storytelling carries readers through this important history lesson, but of course the book couldn’t be more timely. Journalism is teetering on the brink right now, as misinformation and disinformation seem to have a leg up on truth-telling. That in turn puts rational, national decision-making in peril. Nearly 100,000 Americans have died of a horrible virus, millions more are out of work, and nearly everyone’s life has changed for the worse, yet the news is still dominated by partisans yelling at each other. How did we get there? And can we ever put our social order back together?
Back to you, Lisa.