In response to yesterday's blog on my disappointment with media non-coverage of important issues, a friend asked if I believed that MSNBC was any more or less genuine as a news source than other news networks. I must admit that I'm not a big watcher of cable news. I grew up with the local Chicago newscasts on network TV (which were basically a procession of local weather, silly local interest stories, and the day's rundown of all the murders of little kids on the South and West Sides), and nowadays I rarely watch TV at all, even though we have cable TV in our house now.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I'll say that yes, I do believe there are better news networks than MSNBC. It seems that a good deal of MSNBC's programming is talking heads mixing opinion and real news, as Ted Koppel lamented in an article a few months ago. While I might agree with certain viewpoints, like Keith Olbermann's spirited advocacy for a national health care policy, it's not news. Fox is even worse than MSNBC in that it is a circuslike opinion-fest filled with vitriol and misinformation, only for idiotic cryptonazis as opposed to MSNBC's audience of caricatured postmodern liberals. CNN at least deals mainly in news and not opinion, but its coverage seems to me very superficial. They don't get down to the fundamental issues of stories they cover, just a 24-hour loop of the same bland headlines. I don't believe I've ever watched the BBC on TV, but their radio World Service is a source for excellent, in-depth coverage of things going on all over the world. NPR's Morning Edition also seems to me a good mix of headlines and deeper stories, and other NPR programs like the World do good nuanced coverage of national and world trends and issues (though NPR doesn't have a TV outlet, so maybe it's not fair to compare to the other channels here). I haven't seen Al Jazeera English's regular news, but their exposes for example on the Haitian earthquake were well-done. Likewise I've only seen a few special investigative reports from TeleSur, the pan-American channel out of Venezuela, but they were decent. Lastly, there's a French news channel called France 24 that I watched sometimes while I was in Africa, and they had really good coverage of world events.
I guess the summary of the above paragraph is that stations with some public financial support, and presumably a more explicit mandate to serve the public interest (NPR, BBC, Al Jazeera, etc.) fare better in my assessment than the for-profit stations like MSNBC or Fox News.
At any rate, thinking about this gave me a new idea for a news channel. It would broadcast only news, without opinion or commentary. There would be correspondents in maybe ten regions of the world (East Asia, North America, sub-Saharan Africa, etc.), with seven correspondents in each region. So for example in Oceania there could be two correspondents in Australia, one in New Zealand, three flitting about the South Pacific, and one for New Guinea. Every day there would be ten hour-long programs, one from each region, covering major headlines and an in-depth investigative report. Each program would run two times in the day, making for 20 hours of programming. To fill the other four hours, there would be an hour-long summary cast of all the day's news from the different regions, run four times a day. For a given region, each correspondent would be in charge of one program a week, meaning he or she would spend the week preparing an in-depth half-hour report on some relevant topic in the sub-region, and the day of the broadcast of that report, the correspondent would also do a half-hour summary of the entire region's news headlines.
This way, with a staff of seventy regional reporters and their associated production teams, plus whoever would do the daily summary broadcasts, you would get a great worldwide coverage of relevant news. I don't think it would cost that much, compared to the polished studio productions and high-paid stars of the pseudo-news networks. There would only be eleven hours of new programming every day, and the repetition of shows wouldn't be a big deal, since all the other news networks usually just keep repeating the same damn thing anyway.
So that's my idea. It sounds simple--reporting world news with real reporters--but it seems that many networks have gotten away from this model. It's like MTV, which as far as I know hardly shows music videos anymore because they're so busy with other programming. Surely the profit motive has led to this state of affairs, where news networks focus on non-news, but I have to believe that a network catering to the "niche" of people who want real, hard, unembellished news might be able to make a go of it.