In Search of News That Doesn't Suck

Nobody watches the news, right? Why? It has been suggested that the reason is because people are apathetic toward politics, current events are too hard to understand, people's attention spans have shrunk, and because the news is too depressing.

If you ask me, I would suggest it's because the news sucks. Broadcast journalism is in the toilet right now and is steadily growing worse as more and more people move away from television news while broadcasters scramble for relevancy and attempt to cash in on the viral video on-demand sensation started by YouTube.

Last year, an online newsletter called Activate started sending out weekly updates as to what was going on in our world. Culled from newspapers, services and wires from all around the globe, Activate is an informative and sorely needed weekly re-cap of world news.

Print journalism is one thing, but a picture is worth a thousand words and so I decided to attempt to find the video counterpart to Activate.

I don't watch much television and I am typically either not home or not willing to watch the national evening news when it airs each night. I do, however watch a lot of podcasts. I am a huge proponent of digital distribution of on-demand video. I was already aware of a few news services that made their broadcasts available online and so the search began for the best daily podcast that contained hard, informative WORLD news.

Unfortunately, it seems that the News Hour with Jim Lehrer doesn't have a podcast (which used to be my hands down favorite broadcast as a journalism major in college). However, there is still quite a bit out there, available now for free.

Here are the highlights of what I found:

ABC World News Webcast

ABC World News Webcast

First up is the ABC Webcast which is probably my favorite of all due to its length and the fact that it is one of the only podcasts that takes advantage of simple technologies that make viewing a lot nicer.

First off, there are no commercials, aside from the occasional promo for an ABC News related program. Each webcast starts with a recap of important headlines and then goes into detail on some (but not always all). Charlie Gibson is the anchor and the show usually starts with news from the Middle East and the Iraq War.

Unfortunately, there are fluff pieces and human interest trife, but these are usually located toward the end of the show. What's especially nice about the ABC News webcast that sets it head and shoulders above its competitors is a "click the screen for more" feature which does excactly that. Viewers can click on the screen during certain stories and a webpage will open in the background with additional information regarding that particular news item.

My favorite, however, are the chapter marks. Chapters are an extremely simple concept, but also extremely useful. Just hit the "next" arrow on your media player to skip the current story and go to the next one. It's so useful, and seems like a no-brainer, but ABC is the only one doing this at the moment. This also makes the fluff and the human interest stories bearable because you can easily skip right past them.

In total, the podcast runs between 17-19 minutes on weekdays and between 2-5 minutes on weekends.
Score: B (marks off for inconsistent quality of news stories)

Nightly News with Brian Williams

MSNBC has stepped up to handle the duties of all of NBC's various news shows. If you like debates, it really doesn't get much better than Meet The Press which is also available via podcast. In terms of news, the Nightly News with Brian Williams definitely boasts the best theme song of all the competitors (penned by none other than John Williams). The contents of the webcast is on par with what is offered from ABC, however it lacks the bells and whistles that ABC boasts.

No chapters, no click the screen for more, and there are commercials. The commercials are typically "The More You Know" style public service announcements, but they occur half way through the podcast and there are no chapters to use to skip them. If you're on your lunch break or riding a train and time is short, this just seems like a nuisance.

If you like Brian Williams or the NBC theme song you might go with this one, but the lack of chapters and the addition of the "commercials" puts it behind the ABC webcast.
Score: C+ (marks off for inconsistent quality of news stories, commercial interruptions and lack of chapters)

CBS Net News Cast

CBS Podcast

Say what you will about Katie Couric (the few episodes of the podcast I tuned in to, she was on vacation so I didn't even see her), the nail in the coffin on CBS' Evening News podcast is pounded in by its' poor video quality. As a viewer, I ideally want to be able to watch these broadcasts on my portable media player my computer or my television, and regardless of which screen I'm watching it on, CBS's podcast looks bad. Like the poorest of the poor YouTube quality, the video is also glitchy and scrubbing through (fast forwarding or rewinding) can crash or freeze your player.

As far as the news is concerned, it really isn't very hard. There is a surprising amount of speculation involved in stories as well. The podcast is 20 mins which (can be good for some but) is bad for me. Especially considering there are no chapters. In essence, the CBS Evening News feels like local news. Almost half the broadcast is fluff.
Score: D


Mosaic is hardcore. This is no-nonsense news, reported on in a straight-forward and trustworthy manner with no commentary and no pundits. It's exactly what I was looking for. Only one problem. It's only Middle Eastern news. Mosaic is extremely comprehensive, covering the entirety of the Middle East, it contains no fluff and clocks in at a walloping 30 minutes (actually a bit too long for me). If you are trying to keep up with events in the Middle East this is an absolutely mandatory download. If only there was a counterpart that covered the rest of the world as well.
Score: B (marks off for being Middle East-centric only)

BBC News

Most people, myself included, view the BCC World News as one of the gold standards of broadcast journalism. Unfortunately their podcasts don't fair as well. For starters, there's no world news-only version of the podcast, so there is a lot of local British news mixed in. At first, I didn't feel like this would be a big deal, but after sitting through a few discourses on British politics, I realized that I needed a World news-only feed.

Also, the podcast does not download through iTunes. Which isn't the end of the world by any means, but can be a pain if you're on the go and time is a factor. You'll neeed to subscribe to the podcast via RSS and when a new edition is available you'll download it through your web browser. Once it's finished downloading you'll have to change the file extension on your download because for some reason it defaults to a .txt file. Then import it into iTunes. While this isn't a huge deal, it's also not something you will want to do for a DAILY podcast.

Ironically, their webpage has numerous pictures of an iPod and uses the term podcast liberally, yet, no iTunes support. Maybe it's availble in the iTunes U.K. store, but not here.
Score: C-

CNN Daily Podcast & Anderson Cooper 360º

CNN has definitely gone the way of MTV in recent years (remember when they actually used to play music videos?). It seems like it's been a while since I last saw real news on CNN.

In terms of video podcasts, CNN doesn't have much. I was really hoping for a podcast verson of The Situation Room with
Wolf Blitzer instead we have to settle on the CNN Daily Podcast which is just "okay". It's short, usually clocking in at 10 minutes or less. There are occassionally short commercials at the beginning although I've been watching for a few weeks now and haven't seen any lately.

The content is hit or miss. Somedays the news can be all fluff, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and kittens stuck in trees. Other days, there can actually be something worth watching. It doesn't help though that the shows anchor Tony Harris is a d-bag and his female counterparts rotate seemingly everyday. There are no chapters and the "news" generally just seems like a variety of YouTube/America's Most Daring X-Treme Car Chase Rescues videos.
Score: C

Anderson Cooper 360º

360º is very U.S. centric, but the Iraq correspondent, Michael Ware, is very good. No-nonsense, surprisingly honest, but just a tad over-dramatic. Cooper does a good job of tackling hard issues, I just wish the show were a little less U.S. centric. Also, playing against its success is the political correspondent Tom Foreman, who is a supreme tool and lovingly plays the role of the stereotypical broadcast journalist hack.

Cooper's show comes with the least amount of fluff, however the show ends each day s with the "clip of the day" which is basically just pulling up whatever YouTube video made the crew laugh that day. It's generally totally lame and seems like a waste of 5 minutes. The show ends up feeling as if it's trying a little to hard to be hip, edgy and relavent to today's youth. Pandering transparently to a demographic of college students, and recent grads.

All in all, however, Cooper has one of the more solid shows. It's a bit on the long side, clocking in around 27 minutes, but if it had chapter marks it would probably be my favorite of the lot.
Score: B


Hammer said…
thanks for the overview. i've not really gotten into the whole podcast thing, but it is something that I'd definitely get more involved in...if my iPod worked.