Network TV Breaking News Coverage With Civility and Insight? Yes. Really.

Unknown-1On nights like last Friday, TV news still can have a communal experience. Households across the country turned on their TVs to find out more about the Paris attacks they likely learned about first on social media.

But those of us on the northern border of the United States had a distinct advantage in trying to stay informed and try to make sense of what was unfolding across the Atlantic. We didn’t have to rely solely on American TV networks.

We hear frustration all the time from within our business network about the state of American TV news, especially when “the big story” breaks, especially internationally. The word “sensational” comes up often to describe the visual presentation of a clutter of attention-grabbing words on the screen. The word “political” comes up often to describe the I-can-yell-louder-than-you-can talking heads. Many even tell us they have stopped or delayed watching because the obsession with being first leads more often than ever to being wrong.

American adults with a real thirst for information and knowledge can get frustrated by “YouTube’s Greatest Hits” on traditional broadcast network nightly newscasts on top of Fox News’ political agenda (unless it’s their own), MSNBC’s seemingly constant reinvention and even CNN, which used to be the go-to destination for news consumers in times of crisis, is more often than not “CNN in name only” to many of its former fans.

I made a different choice on Friday night, the CBC, which is available via cable and even antennas here in the Detroit market. Granted, the Canadian network operates in a much different competitive environment. But its coverage hit the mark in every respect. It was serious, but understated. It featured reporters with information, even from foreign bureaus, something U.S.-based networks cut significantly to please their corporate owners. It offered commentary from on-set and via-remote analysts that was relevant, insightful and lacked a political agenda. There was a balanced sense of “here’s what we know, but here’s what we don’t know yet.” Watching simply as a viewer, with different expectations than when watch solely as a media analyst, I was fulfilled.

The American networks can brag about their Friday night ratings. They can pat themselves on the back talking about how they drew an audience that evening. Grading on a curve, some of them probably would score relatively highly. But CBC set the standard for those of us who could see it.