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In praise of Nightline

Last Friday when I wanted information about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, I didn’t look on Twitter. I didn’t look on the Internet at all. I turned on ABC and watched the best daily news program on television: Nightline.

It’s strange for a blogger to defend a dinosaur media outlet, one whose extinction has been predicted many times. But I say this sincerely: Nightline is better than it has ever been, and better than any other American newscast.

Nightline crackles with sharp writing, clear and sober explanations of complex subjects, great videography and slick production values. With it’s rotating anchors, the show is refreshingly free of ego. And when evening news programs are losing viewers, Nightline’s viewership is actually climbing. For the first time since since at least the 1990s, Nightline is the top rated program at 11:30, outdrawing Leno, Letterman, Jon Stewart and Conan.

Nightline isn’t always awesome. On slow news days it can lean heavily on cheesy human interest stories. But during breaking news—like the Chilean miner rescue, the Egyptian revolution and now the Japanese tragedy—the show usually nails it.

Consider the trends in media that were supposed to have killed Nightline by now:

  • Fragmentation. With spectrum scarcity no longer an issue, the broadcast networks were supposed to be replaced by hundreds of specialized media choices.
  • Internet news. Nobody needs a nightly news recap when they can read the news any time online.
  • Online video. Everybody is playing back shows off the Internet or DVDs whenever they feel like it, not when the TV schedule dictates.
  • Social media. When you can get first-hand accounts on Twitter, or news filtered by peers with similar interests as you on Facebook, broadcasting becomes a sub-optimal way to get news.

Yet oddly, these same forces are all getting people to do the unthinkable: Cancel cable. And as that happens, the surprise winners are broadcast channels like ABC, which are available for free in most places with a set of rabbit ears.

Incredible as it sounds, this is Nightline’s moment.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under News & Journalism, Television

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