Once in TV journalism there were people called assignment editors and news directors. Among their responsibilities was to instruct reporters and camera crews which stories they were to cover that day. Their choices were based on several factors that included what they regarded as news, viewer interest (i.e., ratings) and much more subtly, their own biases. When I began my journalism career as a reporter, there were only three broadcast networks and local TV and radio stations. The radio stations played music and reported local news. The news was what these gatekeepers said it was. When the broadcast TV networks went from 15-minute newscasts to 30 minutes, some expressed fear there wouldn’t be enough news to fill the time.
Then, the news was considered serious business. We would cover congressional hearings and presidential press conferences. There would be stories about crime, and news from Europe and Asia reported by “bureau chiefs” who were full-time correspondents. Mostly, though, it was subjects considered of importance to America, a type of “eat your vegetables” approach. Yes, the times changed and much of the media today appears to be more opinion than facts, more infotainment than news.
In 1987, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present “fair and balanced coverage,” contributed to the rise of “alternative media.” These cable networks and some print publications began carrying stories ignored by the once dominant major media. They quickly attracted the loyalty of conservative political and religious people who felt their beliefs and values were being ignored.