Goodnight John-Boy, goodbye TV


Remember those old scenes depicting the Waltons sitting around an old, freestanding, antique radio? War families listening intently to the latest news dispatches? Sports fans up in the middle of the night following the progress of their team?

Well, it’s happening again. There’s a dinosaur in the room just waiting to be consigned to the swamp of history.

And no, I’m not talking about David Garrett this time. I’m referring, of course, to television.

Whatever your thoughts on Michael Jackson, the concept of having a removable nose, or the ability to moonwalk, it’s hard to ignore the dramatic change we’re undergoing these days in terms of receiving our news. If immediacy is any gauge, the internet is now winning the race by the same margin as the telegraph beat the horse and cart. Television is fast becoming an ark, filled with animals long since extinct.

Not even CNN got close to the Jacko story as it broke. In the Depression years folk might have surrounded a radio, and in the post-war era, the television, but

in today’s world people make a beeline for the web. It’s how we first found out about the Napier siege, the Christchurch paraplegic gunman and the Air New Zealand tragedy in France. Radio might be as fast but the internet is more media-rich, with options of video, audio or the written word.

Conventional television no longer stands a chance when it comes to international news. The Jacko story was first aired by American celebrity website TMZ, which was also the first news source, minutes later, to report that he’d died. It wasn’t just a wild and speculative hunch, by all accounts; the site had probed for updates on Jackson’s condition, received a tip-off, checked it, and then published these two sentences: “We’ve just learned Michael Jackson has died. He was 50.”

As mainstream media sites scrambled to play catch-up, the internet took the story to the world. Huge American TV channels such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox were left in the wake of the modern trail-blazers: Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. The Google news site received so many hits it thought it was under an automated attack. Twitter started receiving 6000 messages a minute, then 13,000, and then started melting down.

Television tried to counter with tributes and eulogies but the web had that covered as well, from tweeting film stars Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan and Marlon Wayans, to musicians MC Hammer and sportsman Shaquille O’Neal. TV went interactive, but the internet was more than its equal there too, as demonstrated when thousands of users logged into the MySpace page of Jacko’s former wife, Lisa Marie Presley, to pay tribute.

Even since then, TMZ seems to have enjoyed the inside running over seriously funded news channels such as ABS and CBS, drawing sources from areas in which the mainstream media have continued to come up empty-handed. The ambulance paramedics, the Jackson mansion, the Los Angeles medical centre; you name it and they’ve been first with the news. We should probably get used to the new order as soon as possible; it’s only going to become more entrenched as the years wear on.

Only problem is, if TV is to soon become an endangered species, what the heck are we going to do with this column?