In 1968 most television news was still shooting sixteen-millimeter black-and-white film, usually from cameras mounted on tripods…Because the film was expensive and time-consuming to process, it could not be shot indiscriminately. The cameraman would set up and then wait for a signal from the correspondent. When the correspondent judged that the scene was becoming interesting—sometimes the cameraman would make the decision himself—he would give a signal, and the cameraman would push the button and start filming. “You could shoot ten minutes to get one minute,” said Schorr [a CBS correspondent], “but you couldn’t shoot two hours.”
What became apparent to Schorr was that it was “a matter of decibels….As soon as somebody raised his voice and said, ‘But how can you sit there and say so and so’—I would press the button, because television likes drama, television likes conflict, and anything that indicates conflict was a candidate for something that might get on the air…
The presence of cameras started to have a noticeable impact on civility in debates. Schorr recalled in covering the Senate, “The frequently raised their voice for no reason at all, just because they knew that it would get our attention by doing that.” But it was not only politicians in chambers that turned strident to get the button pushed. Abbie Hoffman understood how this worked, Stokely Carmichael understood it, and so did Martin Luther King…[King] complained to Schorr that television was encouraging black leaders to say the most violent and inflammatory things and had very little interest in his nonviolence…
“Did I go on seeking menacing sound bites as my passport to the evening news?” Schorr asked himself in a moment of soul-searching. “I’m afraid I did.” (1968: The Year that Rocked the World, pp. 40-1)
By the Spring of 1968, college demonstrations had become such a commonplace event in the United States, with some thirty schools a month erupting, that sen high schools and junior highs were joining in. In February, hundreds of eighth graders jammed the halls, took over classrooms, and set off fire alarms at Junior High School 258 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. They were demanding better food and more dances.
Protesters understood that with constant protest they had to do much more than just march carrying a sign in oder to make the newspapers. A building had to be seized, something had to be shut down. (p. 81)
Attention grabbing still lies at the heart of news reporting today, but I think its safe to say that the 60s era of grandstanding has passed. How did this occur? How did attention grabbing diminish? How much did it really diminish? How much of its decline has to do with jaded viewers (who, after all, wants to be confronted with turmoil every day)? And: after its decline, did it reach a stasis, or does it fluctuate?