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The Media’s Role in Defining the Nation

The Active Voice


David Copeland

In 1897, William Randolph Hearst said that his newspaper did not simply cover events that had already happened. «It doesn’t wait for things to turn up», Hearst said. «It turns them up.» This book traces the close relationship between media and the United States’ development from the colonial period to the twenty-first century. It explores how the active voice of citizen-journalists and trained media professionals has turned to media to direct the moral compass of the people and to set the agenda for a nation, and discusses how changes in technology have altered the way in which participatory journalism is practiced. What makes the book powerful is that its assessment of the influence and use of media encompasses many levels: it explores the potential of media as an agent for change from within small communities to the national stage.


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10. The Scramble to Fill 24 Hours of Air Time: The End of the Twentieth Century 257


10. The Scramble to Fill 24 Hours of Air Time: The End of the Twentieth Century In 1980, the face of news presentation in the United States altered dramati- cally. That is when a burgeoning media mogul from Atlanta, Georgia, intro- duced the Cable News Network. CNN, rather than confining news to the early morning news broadcasts, multi-second updates during the day, and the evening news, promised to devote all day, every day to the nation’s and the world’s events. Initially, doing so was difficult. As one CNN executive said, “In the beginning, we had to scramble to fill 24 hours of air time.”1 Soon, though, CNN was providing the nation with a live, ninety-minute news summary every evening, and in January 1991, the cable network provided sounds and then images from Baghdad as the United States sent Patriot missiles into Iraq at the start of the Persian Gulf War. Doing so, one observer noted, changed American television news coverage by providing people with real-time access to a wealth of information. As a result, the relationship between newsmakers, news carriers, and the news audience was altered forever.2 CNN was not the only new network introduced to the American public in the early 1980s. On August 1, 1981, Music Television started its cable broadcast life. Playing music videos hosted and presented by VJ’s, MTV soon became the most profitable twenty-four-hour network, reaching 30.8 million households within five years of the first broadcast. Just as CNN became a trans- formative agent...

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