Continuum £9.99

No Time to Think, By Howard Rosenberg and Charles S Feldman

Twenty-four-hour news channels are accused of being 'bad for you, and for democracy'

"...And there we must leave the Prime Minister's statement to get the latest weather and snow reports from Chamonix. Vicky."

Everyone has their favourite grumble about rolling news channels. The locked down running orders, the interminable two-ways, the speculation and opinion purporting to be news, the hyping of the trivial, the self-important graphics. And there are so many of them – from CNN to Al Jazeera to Fox, Sky News and the BBC News Channel – that there's plenty of naffness, bias and cock-ups to complain about.

Certainly many of the whinges are justified. Rolling news can so easily become rolling rumour. Remember Sky's reporting on the morning of 7 July 2005 – when, courtesy of inaccurate phone-in reportage, we were led to believe that scores of simultaneous explosions were happening? Or BBC World's interview with a faker pretending to represent Union Carbide, offering billions in compensation to Bhopal victims – a story which someone obviously thought too good to check.

These were crass errors, certainly. But do the mistakes overshadow the whole rolling news phenomenon? Certainly that's the view of Howard Rosenberg and Charles Feldman, whose No Time To Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle is an assault on the entire rolling news venture. Their main criticism, as the title suggests, is the sheer speed of modern news-gathering and the impetus to get the story to air quickly – without the time to check, or even think about the ramifications. And they point to several examples – the OJ Simpson trial, the Jeremiah Wright controversy, etc – where a trivial matter has been overhyped into momentous news.

In this, the authors really do have a point. But I think they've got it the wrong way round. Yes, the trivial is often overhyped. But worse mistakes are made when the momentous is treated as trivial. Too often, programme editors rush stories to air before they've had a think about the true meaning. Whether it be the infamous Gilligan report at 6.07am on Radio 4 or the Bhopal interview, it seems that nobody stopped to think "what does it mean if this is true?" before airing the stuff. Both stories – had they been true – were absolutely momentous. Gilligan was suggesting that the government "probably knew" that they were peddling lies. The faux Union Carbide interviewee was breaking huge new ground in corporate responsibility. But far from overhyping, ramping up trivial stories, what the news editors did was the opposite: fail to spot enormous ones.

For Rosenberg and Feldman, "the nasty little truth about 24-hour news – whether cable TV or the internet – is that most of it is not news." They are right, of course. But that observation – far from being a "nasty little truth" – might well have come from the University of the Bleeding Obvious. Watch any rolling news channel for more than about five minutes and you'll realize that a lot of what you see – speculation about possible floods in Melton Mowbray or Breaking News about Lindsay Lohan's splinter – isn't news. But no news isn't news, and Rosenberg and Feldman pull out all the overhyping stops, all the tricks of the faux-news trade, to suggest that their observations are in some way groundbreaking.

Thus we get breathless blurb on the book's back: "This is a dangerous book because it's all true" we are told by TV producer Linda Ellerbee. "You need this book. Read it" opines Ray Bradbury. Most terrifying of all, we get the imprecations of the former White House press secretary Bill Moyers: "Read Rosenberg and Feldman... and start thinking about how to save yourselves and democracy." Save yourselves? From CNN? Inside the book, too, the authors have clearly learnt the worst excitable lessons from rolling news.

Tiny verbless paragraphs, with lots of screaming exclamation marks!!

One chapter is just a transcribed conversation between the two self-congratulatory authors – something which even the most desperate rolling news editor might find dull and repetitive.

In short, Rosenberg and Feldman are right to say that there's a lot wrong with rolling news, and in particular that the need for speed can lead to bad judgements. But they are woefully wrong to suggest that baby, bathwater and all have little of value and threaten democracy.

Of course, as someone who makes a living from a 24-hour channel, I would say that. But it is absolutely undoubtable that rolling news does do some valuable things, things which network TV would never find the room for. I regret the fact, for example, that Panorama no longer brings warring parties together for live studio debate. But they don't – so we do. The two sides in the Darfur conflict had never debated in a TV studio, until we brought them together on Al Jazeera English. If that's not a public service, I don't know what is.

Charlie Courtauld is the editor of 'Frost Over the World' on Al Jazeera English

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life