TV lags, Web leads 

Dear network TV news executives,

I know this is a busy time for you, so I’ll make it quick.

Ever since we were attacked, I’ve watched your news broadcasts regularly. In fact, I watch them every day. Most of my friends do too.

Clearly, your coverage of these terrible events has been tireless. Your anchors and reporters take their jobs very seriously. When this is all over, you should give them some time off. They really deserve it.

But something seems missing from your coverage. I’m no expert on TV journalism, but I get the feeling you aren’t telling us everything. And I’d like to know why.

You see, I usually rely on the Internet for news and information. You should try it. There’s an almost limitless stream of knowledge, if you know where to look. And, though I hate to say it, your coverage suffers by comparison.

For example, it took you more than a day to give us details about the Taliban. But on the Web, I was able to find a complete history of Afghanistan’s ruling religious party right away (try visiting worldskip.com/afghanistan). And by the time you got around to explaining Islamic fundamentalism, I already knew everything you said.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of your coverage is quite good. For example, I like ABC’s “Nightline.” Ted Koppel deserves more airtime, if you ask me.

But still, something’s missing.

Like last week, when gay-lesbian news site planetout.com reported that Pentagon leaders have authorized the historic suspension of military discharges for — among other things — reasons of homosexuality. Remember the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy from a few years back? It was a big news story back then. Now that it’s at least temporarily lifted, why haven’t you mentioned it?

I’m sorry to be so hard on you. Perhaps you did mention these things, and I just missed them. I haven’t seen every hour of your coverage.

Anyway, it’s not your fault. By design, the Web tends to be more complete.

Take the Internet’s vast archives, for example. Using a search engine like google.com, I can uncover old stories about almost any topic.

It’s easy. Last week, when the president said the United States is the world’s biggest humanitarian donor to Afghanistan, I searched for “Afghanistan” and “Bush.” I found an LA Times article (mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n922/a09.html). It explained how the United States gave $43 million to the Taliban last May. The chief reason, they said? To “reward (Afghanistan) for declaring that opium growing is against the will of God.”

How interesting. Why haven’t you mentioned that yet? I wonder how that $43 million is being used. Perhaps you could tell us soon. If you want, you can have Ted Koppel do it.

Anyway, I know you’ve been busy. The catch-all names you have come up with for this tragedy work really well. The red, white and blue logos look great too.

Perhaps your role is different now. Maybe the Web’s changed things for you. If people want details, they can go online. TV works better for sound bites anyway. Like Maria Shriver on “Dateline NBC,” who thoughtlessly asked a WTC victim’s mother to explain why she was still so “optimistic” about the whereabouts of her missing son.

I have an idea. Perhaps you could give us less Maria Shriver, and more news.

Like the British press does. Using the Web, I’ve been reading London newspapers like the Times (thetimes.co.uk) and the Guardian (guardian.co.uk). Those papers seem quite capable of covering international stories. But then again, they’re over in Europe. Everything seems “international” over there.

I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. Perhaps in an earlier era, I wouldn’t have even noticed these gaps.

But this is not 1941. Or even 1972. So please excuse me if I’m a little unclear on your approach.

Actually, my biggest problem isn’t what you’re leaving out. It’s what you’re putting in. Often, your telecasts have more patriotic messages than newsworthy ones.

Don’t get me wrong. I care deeply about the heroism of rescuers. I want to hear their stories. And I think it’s great when people attach American flags to their cars.

But please — leave time for examining the hard question of “Why?” I mean it. When Fox News starts calling its news coverage “America United,” that’s not news. That’s cheerleading.

In closing, may I suggest some Web sites to get you started? Try salon.com (which is examining how our civil liberties may soon be threatened, rather than just vaguely mentioning the possibility). Or visit the Poynter Institute’s home page for journalists (poynter.org) and find some tips on how to really cover a tragedy.

Or, if you want the people’s perspective, go to a grassroots Web log like fark.com. Right now, you’ll find a great story about New Yorkers who see “ghost” twin towers at night.

You can do it. Be a hero. The nation is counting on you too.

Respectfully,

Adam Druckman
columnist

P.S. Quick note to NBC: msnbc.com is actually pretty good. Perhaps you can get Brokaw to read from it on tomorrow’s “Nightly News.”

Adam Druckman wanders the Web for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

Best Things to Do In Detroit

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.