When critics decry the current state of our public discourse, one reliably easy target is television news. It’s too dumbed-down, they say; it’s no longer news but entertainment, celebrity-obsessed and vapid.
The critics may be right. But, as Charles L. Ponce de Leon explains in That’s the Way It Is, TV news has always walked a fine line between hard news and fluff. The familiar story of decline fails to acknowledge real changes in the media and Americans’ news-consuming habits, while also harking back to a golden age that, on closer examination, is revealed to be not so golden after all. Ponce de Leon traces the entire history of televised news, from the household names of the late 1940s and early ’50s, like Eric Sevareid, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, through the rise of cable, the political power of Fox News, and the satirical punch of Colbert and Stewart. He shows us an industry forever in transition, where newsmagazines and celebrity profiles vie with political news and serious investigations. The need for ratings successand the lighter, human interest stories that can help bring itPonce de Leon makes clear, has always sat uneasily alongside a real desire to report hard news.
Highlighting the contradictions and paradoxes at the heart of TV news, and telling a story rich in familiar figures and fascinating anecdotes, That’s the Way It Is will be the definitive account of how television has showed us our history as it happens.
"Engaging and important."
(American Historical Review
"As television news becomes more partisan, more emotional, and leans more toward the trivial, the blame usually falls on venal media moguls and cynical journalists. That's the Way It Is reminds us that the structure of the competitive environment, government regulation, and most importantly the preferences of the audience have always shaped the news we see on TV. This is an important book because it reminds us that even if we don’t like the picture, we are actually looking in a mirror."
(Jack Fuller, former editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune)
"This is an important project. No one has written a serious history of American television news. We have some good case studies, and treatments of different moments in TV journalism, but no scholar has attempted the synthesis that Charles Ponce de Leon offers here."
(James L. Baughman, University of Wisconsin)
"Charles Ponce de Leon has written a brisk and informative history of television news since its inception in the late 1940s, covering the more than six decades of TV news from Douglas Edwards to Diane Sawyer, from the Camel News Caravan to Countdown with Keith Olbermann. The narrative moves quickly, yet pauses to offer extended discussions of such topics as the genesis of PBS, the establishment of CNN, the innovations of Roone Arledge at ABC, and the ways that local news helped to reshape the network evening newscasts."
(Chester Pach, Ohio University)
About the Author
Charles L. Ponce de Leon is associate professor of history and American Studies at California State University Long Beach.