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Too Much News, Too Much of the Time

One of the earliest memories I have was from 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, exactly 60 years ago this month.  It was a Friday afternoon, and our school dismissed us from first grade early that day.  I remember that when I got home, my mom was glued to the kitchen radio, listening to the news in real time – the method that most folks used to obtain the most up-to-the-minute reports about major news stories.

The Six-Day War was the next seminal event that I remember capturing our hearts and minds … and again it was the radio that I remember being the medium of choice for the latest news from Israel.  Many of our teachers at HANC, where I attended at the time, brought transistor radios to school, tuning in to the news stations during their breaks to find out how Israel was faring during the war.  As I recall, some of the students brought their radios to school, too.

CBS (880) and WINS (1010) were the all-news radio stations I grew up with.  My parents preferred CBS, although I always thought WINS had much more clever marketing slogans – “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world” and “The news watch never stops.”  As a sports fan, I distinctly remember that if you wanted up-to-the-minute sports scores, you would tune in 15 minutes before and after the hour.  And, of course, the traffic reports from the helicopter were legendary – this was before Waze, of course, so a traffic report about where there were backups could allow you to redirect your travel to a different highway.  As a kid, I always thought it must have been a cool job to be the traffic guy up in a helicopter!

Things shifted to television in the 1970s.  While most of us had television sets and watched the news in the evening (Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley) during the 1960s, it really wasn’t until the 1970s that viewers spent long periods of time watching news events on television.  The event that really changed television news viewing forever was the Watergate hearings in 1973, when for 51 consecutive days, Americans were mesmerized by the “gavel to gavel” coverage of President Nixon’s wrongdoings.  It was one of the most popular series in public broadcasting history, and it made celebrities of anchors Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, along with chairperson of the committee Senator Sam Earvin.

After the hearings were over, television viewers interested in the news pretty much settled back to watching the evening news at a specified time, or listening to the radio and reading the daily paper. That forever changed in June 1980, when Cable News Network (CNN) launched the very first all-news television network, an extremely novel and unusual programming concept at the time. Suddenly one could watch the news at any given time, 24 hours a day – and be provided with the latest news of what was happening throughout the globe.  It was an incredibly novel concept at the time – and it caught on quickly, making Ted Turner, the founder of the network, a very rich man.

In 1990, Wolf Blitzer moved to CNN – and I remember the interviews he had during the Gulf War and the Scud missile crisis with a much younger Benjamin Netanyahu, who emerged as the principal spokesperson for Israel on CNN because he was so fluent in English.  I watched the news religiously every night on the cable channel, eagerly awaiting what Netanyahu had to say.

And then, of course, the Internet came, which changed, well … everything.  But most of all how we consume news and other information.  Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television no longer was the preferred source of getting up-to-the-minute news.  If you could log on to your computer and immediately link to a news website, or visit these sites right from your smartphone, why bother turning on a television set to find out what’s going on.  As time went on and the technology improved, these information sites got even more and more sophisticated, adding video, blogs, and other bells and whistles for a more enhanced user experience.

Today even visiting websites for content has become outdated.  Many people receive text messages with breaking news, literally seconds after a story is reported.  Individuals report the latest news they hear to thousands of their social media friends (sometimes they are just rumors, but for better or worse, all seems to be fair on Facebook, even though it isn’t). With viral marketing, a news story can travel faster than a speeding bullet.  Add to this mountain of information the fact that most folks are members of dozens of WhatsApp groups, and you can understand why many people, including myself, suffer from information overload.

I’m not sure what the answer is to all the news and content we are constantly exposed to.  On the one hand, getting information in a timely and efficient manner is a real plus.  On the other hand, do any of us really have enough time to fully digest all the information that is presented to us 24/7?

I’ve been particularly focused on this issue for the last two months, since October 7th, when our desire to find out accurate information about Israel has been even more acute and my time seems to be overly consumed by the amount of news with which I am presented.

One of the famous slogans used by WINS radio was “All News, All the Time.” However, these days I’m feeling that we are getting too much news, too much of the time.

Do you agree?

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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