Sunday, November 30, 2008

When It's Time to Let Go: the Danger of Nostalgia

An NY Times article caught my eye: the trend of departing long time local television anchors.

I'm pretty open about my distaste for local television, even though I have been spoiled by a decent glut in the Twin Cities. KSTP, FOX 9, WCCO have all had their moments (but not KARE 11, someone please make the Kare Bears go away). 

I think the nostalgia for local television news is similar to the same nostalgia for what my former professor Stephanie Coontz referred to as 'The Way We Never Were'. Her book explained how the 1950's ideal of the nuclear family came into existence - and how it shaped sexist, and harmful social policies. 

This article reminded me of the danger of getting too nostalgic. When we lose a news personality, we feel it personally. We get angry. We saw this in public broadcasting when the long time Morning Edition host Bob Edwards left NPR. I have been in so many situations where people have decried his departure and looked to me to back them up. I can't - I do think he had to go. I do think Morning Edition needed new energy. I do think he'd been there too long. And I like Bob Edwards - but my inner news manager recognizes that the industry is changing, and if you're people aren't, you have to find new people. 

And this is where the nostalgia can get dangerous. We start talking about "the good old days". When journalists were real journalists, when newspapers were real watchdogs, conveniently forgetting massive failures of our press, and recent ones too. 

Is this a reason to dismiss the independence of our press as a failure? Of course not. But we can talk about how to make it better. And it starts with acknowledging, in the words of Billy Joel, that the good, old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems. 

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