Convergence, Chaos and the Supreme Court

CNN and others got the story wrong at first. Where will we find the trusted news sources of the future?In much the same way the earth’s tectonic plates are grinding against each other off our Pacific shoreline — potentially creating a powerful force that could reshape our landscape — the world of technology and the news media universe are in collision. The forces emerging from the evolutionary  “convergence” of computers and television already are changing where and how we get our news. Convergence is the keyword.

Two seemingly unrelated news events last week could show us how and where we may find the trusted news sources of the future. The events: The high court's health care ruling and the split up of Rupert Murdock’s News Corp.

First, the Supreme Court’s affirmative ruling on the Affordable Care Act. News coverage was so confusing that even President Obama, who taught constitutional law at Harvard University, at first misunderstood the outcome and thought he had lost the court’s vote.

The leading cable news networks simply got the story wrong. CNN aired three differing stories on the court’s decision in 15 minutes, says reporter Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun, adding that Fox wasn’t much better. 

“In addition to hitting the airwaves,” Broadwater wrote, “the network also sent out two breaking news alerts.”

• “10:09: The Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care — the legislation that requires all to have health insurance.”

• “10:18: Correction: The Supreme Court backs all parts of President Obama's signature health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all to have health insurance.”

The New York Times seemed to take a more cautious approach, Broadwater wrote, tweeting the following: "The Supreme Court has ruled on President Obama's health-care overhaul, and Times reporters and editors are analyzing the decision. Once we are comfortable with its basic meaning, you can expect a torrent of coverage."

 A red-faced CNN emailed a statement, explaining the initial confusion: 

"In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.  CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling.  CNN regrets that it didn't wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate.  We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error."

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show had his own take on what happened in the race for “news firstiness."

In simple terms, the print media proved to be a more reliable source.

Commentator Felix Salmon drives that point home in a Columbia Journalism Review web post headlined “News Corp.’s digital divergence.”

“…Print media is converging on TV news and will ultimately become the kind of trusted source of live-breaking news that CNN used to be. Meanwhile, TV news is never going to converge on the rest of the news industry; instead, it will drift further and further into the realm of entertainment.”

Salmon was commenting on the news that Rupert Murdock was breaking News Corp in to two separate entities — entertainment and news.

Murdock’s Fox News, Sky News and Fox Business are going to end up on the entertainment, rather than the news, side of the divide, while The Daily and HarperCollins join what News Corp describes as “some of the world’s most successful print, digital and information services," Salmon writes. 

Harking back to last Thursday, Salmon said: “And nothing shows the power of different types of news than what happened this morning, when the news broke that the Supreme Court had upheld Obama’s healthcare law. As a rule, everything on the news side of Murdoch’s news/entertainment divide got it right, and everything on the entertainment side got it wrong.

Salmon continues: “As we saw with CNN this morning, however, it also has serious reliability problems. And if we fast-forward to how the bipartite News Corp will look in a couple of years, I suspect that the WSJ’s live video feed covering the Supreme Court will be a much more reliable and intelligent guide to what’s going on than anything on Fox or even on CNN.”

“All of which is to say that if you want to be a journalist, don’t work in TV. The pay might be better there, but if there’s any real journalism going on there right now, there probably won’t be in a few years’ time,” Salmon concludes.