In his parting television interview on CBS, Walter Cronkite bemoaned the 30 minute newscast and how only another ten minutes would provide greater context to television news and information. (Actually, his 30 minute evening program, watched by millions, was only 23 minutes with commercials.)
Like small islands in a sea of information, he encouraged journalists to present more contextual, in depth and less flashy newscasts. His famous slogan “that’s the way it is” (1M Google hits) may have been a bit pompous, but we believed him. We trusted what he said. And like other great journalists, he did his best within allotted time to explain the important news and information of the day. Cronkite died in 2009, labeled “the most trusted man in America.”
In a 2010 MobileBeyond post–”New Media Joins Journalists for 2010 Elections,”–I wrote:
“Throughout most of the 20th century, large media conglomerates, funded through advertising, brought citizens the ‘news.’ If Walter Cronkite said ‘that’s the way it is,’ millions of viewers agreed. Yet even Cronkite, lamenting the networks’ 23 minutes of evening news, said: ‘We are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting our leaders.’ Even some voters in the Tea Party this year might agree with him.’”
In his farewell to television, he expressed his concern about the status of television news:
I wonder if Cronkite, handed a smartphone enabled with national and worldwide news and information, would praise Bob Schieffer on CBSNews.com for his 2:46 second video coverage of the U.S. Postal Service’s layoffs? Or the Congressional budget fighting lasting 3:21?
How about CNN.com and other sites, such as National Public Radio, that offer longer and more comprehensive content? Are lengthier news reports–text, audio or video–necessarily better than shorter ones? Do they heighten our understanding of issues, problems and solutions? If Cronkite could choose his venues to present more comprehensive coverage, using today’s new media, which mobile or digital channels would he choose?
Mobile News Sources
Mobile streaming video, provided by MobiTV and other media companies, is growing faster on the Internet than any other medium. Cisco estimates video will consume 90% of all Internet traffic in the next five-seven years. Netflix dominates the consumer video streaming space, while 18 million people per hour visit YouTube.
Increasing millions of smartphone and tablet computer users get their news primarily from digital sources, while most newspapers are dying a slow death. News and information channels fill the Internet and mobile Web with hundreds of choices, while mobile apps deliver multimedia experiences. If Cronkite crawled out of his grave today , which media and news sources would he choose? Would he keep his status as the most trusted person in the media or criticize digital media?
If Cronkite leapt from the grave, used his personal computer, smartphone, iPad, television or radio, here are news and information channels he’d find:
Slate. This is a very slick news and information website and mobile app. Viewers choose from home, politics, arts, life, biz & tech, science and blogs. The articles can be lengthy and the app offers podcasts and videos. When I chose the science category, up popped stories about whether coffee is good for you, why dogs rub against things that smell bad, the government’s ban on airport naked body scanners, one about NASA’s new “pumpkin” suit astronauts use to carry all their gadgets and another piece debating if yogurt is good for you. I won’t mention the last one called “Would your dog eat your dead body?” In all fairness, despite the Tea Party probably disliking Slate, its stories are quite often intriguing.
Wall Street Journal. The digital pad edition has professionally integrated full-length WSJ stories from the print version with videos containing newscasts resembling network news programs. You discover not all WSJ reporters wear starched white shirts. For $17 per month, it beats the pants off the New York Times, a paper in resurrection mode since the beginning of digital media. I bet Cronkite would love an iPad with a Wall Street Journal subscription. The app and content demonstrate that newspapers are not dead. In fact, they exemplify the future of digital publishing. If Apple in its greed would stop seeking a percentage of subscription revenue, the WSJ and other publications might prosper.
SkyGrid. This news and information app delivers short summaries of stories from major publications in the U.S., with one click access to each article without leaving your page. You select keywords to follow, read content at the moment or Read Later. As with many other apps, you connect to your Twitter and Facebook accounts or send stories to others using email. I think Cronkite would have a blast creating his own personal news presentation.
FlipBoard. FB is a social magazine where articles are created through your Twitter followers’ tweets. You use your finger to flip through content suggested by followers, send a direct message back to fellow Twitterites, re-tweet and write your own. It’s an app that connects you more closely with those on Twitter while you explore news and information across the Internet. Again, I have to believe that Uncle Walter would love this tool.
News Republic. Many of the apps already mentioned are for iOS devices (iPhone and iPad). News Republic’s news and information app runs on the major mobile operating systems. While content comes mostly from The Associated Press, as you read news and information articles, you can click on links that take you to different stories as well as view a keyword topic cloud. With one finger, you move topics around on your device, find something of interest, tap and you’re now on another web page. The experience is uncanny; it’s like standing in front of a large television screen showing keywords and photos, swirling the cloud around and stopping to explore something of interest. Kudos to the folks at News Republic and the AP for re-purposing the content into new media.
Future of Digital News and Information
I believe we shouldn’t worry about news and information in a mobile world. And I believe that Cronkite, if he were alive today, would welcome the media transformations we seeing. Cronkite was a man deeply interested in great events as the moon landing coverage reveals. His amazement of the great things humans do invigorated us. His on-screen sadness when John. F. Kennedy died helped express a nation’s sadness.
What would Cronkite say today about the revolution in news, information and communications? Without a doubt, he would say “that’s the way it will be.”