Coverage of Tuesday's election night took place during prime time, giving cable news partisans the responsibility of tracking and reporting details on the elections. Many observers, fed up with the substandard coverage of the networks' opinion commentators, turned to Twitter for up-to-the-minute coverage.
Election followers on Twitter displayed their discontent towards cable news stations throughout the night. Twitterer Some1ToShoutFor lamented, "I know this isn't a huge election, but you would think CNN would be covering it a little bit."
Another, with the ironic username msnbcwatcher, complained of hyper-partisan Ed Schultz's coverage: "What makes @MSNBC think that Ed Schultz should be on TV more? Is there no 1 else to do election coverage? Wheres @DavidShuster?"
Even MSNBC's own correspondent Mike Murphy couldn't watch his own channel. “MSNBC even more unwatchable than usual tonight. Mistake to ever let Olbermann host election night. The mega-crazy gets in the way," he tweeted late Tuesday night.
Liberal blogger Duncan Black fumed about Larry King Live, with its eclectic lineup of guests. "larry king jesse ventura, ben stein, and james carville. i cannot take anymore," read one tweet. Another gave readers some simple advice: "Cable news even stupider than usual. Just turn it off."
Prime time hosts spent their nights touting their respective candidates, and doing little to no on-the-ground reporting on the ongoing elections. But political junkies and rabid news consumers turned to Twitter for updates throughout the night.
For hardcore lovers of politics, Twitter served up the real-time nuts and bolts of campaigns racing to the finish line. Top political reporters like NBC’s Chuck Todd tapped away for hours as results came in. Meanwhile, the Washington Independent’s Dave Weigel provided constant, on-the-ground dispatches from New York’s 23rd congressional district, with Twitpics inside Conservative Doug Hoffman headquarters as the tide changed toward the Democrats. With each precinct reporting, journalists and junkies offered quick takes, both amusing and analytical.
The cable networks broadcast the news, and had reporters like CNN’s John King, who went deep on each race on CNN’s Magic Wall. But they also featured a motley assortment of analysts and partisan guests who sometimes seemed to have little familiarity with the races in play and might have turned off anyone hungry for more sophisticated insight...
For less-obsessive viewers, there’s always the late news on the hour to find out who won the major races. But for those needing immediate results—which Virginia county is going blue to red in real-time—the Internet is the faster alternative.
The poor election coverage sparked some discussion on the self-evident differences between the networks' partisans and their hard-news reporters.
Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, said that election nights underscore the necessary difference between a journalistic analyst and a partisan.
“[I] think the consequence of having partisan talk show hosts as your stars of prime-time and ideological shows rather than reportorial shows in prime-time creates a potential problem when you have actual news breaking in prime-time,” says Rosenstiel.
“Do you bump these people off and bring on more traditional journalists?” Rosenstiel asked. “Or, do you let the talk show hosts have their time slots? I think this is an interesting and difficult question for cable.”
Davidson Goldin, former editorial director of MSNBC, has had to make those decisions before. But Goldin said that on election night voters know where to get the immediate results, and are likely to flip to their preferred cable network for analysis they’re more likely to agree with.
But Tuesday night's viewers did not simply tune into the channels that best fit their views and tolerate the sub-standard reporting. At least some of them went in search of an alternative--and they found Twitter. It is an interesting commentary on the state of the cable news industry when Americans--both laymen and professionals--turn off the boob tube to get their news 140 characters at a time.