Events That Changed How Media Outlets Cover News

News coverage is constantly evolving. Sometimes, the media industry gets a jolt from important news events, which brings instant change from the boardroom to the streets. These 12 news events represent critical turning points in how news is covered.

1963: Kennedy Assassination Puts Focus on TV News Coverage

Cecil Stoughton / U.S. National Archives

Hard to believe now, but before the assassination of President Kennedy, most serious journalists wanted to work in radio or for a newspaper. TV was seen as an entertainment medium.

The Kennedy assassination unfolded in a way that demonstrated the power of television. Radio couldn't show the shooting and newspapers couldn't capture the moment-by-moment drama.

A film of the shooting could be replayed over and over to a horrified nation. Live reports from the hospital became grimmer by the minute. The shooting death of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was also shown on TV.

Television provided moving images as compared to the still photos in newspapers, and live TV broadcasts had the same immediacy as radio. The age of TV news had begun.

1968: Walter Cronkite Shifts Public Opinion of the Vietnam War

Walter Cronkite conducts an interview in Hue, Vietnam


Today, you can find personal opinion oozing through stories on cable TV news channels. It's easy to dismiss the noise when it's coming at you from all directions.

Rewind time to the late 1960s. CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, after reporting on the Vietnam War, decided the conflict could only end in stalemate.

In a rare departure from straight news reporting, he spoke from his heart on an evening news broadcast. He said the war wasn't winnable. Some say that led President Johnson to negotiate with the North Vietnamese and end his political career.

Even after Cronkite's death in 2009, some critics blast him for liberal bias. But unlike most commentators today, Cronkite took the time to investigate before delivering his views.

1974: Newspapers Bring Down President Nixon

President Richard Nixon sits at his desk as he announces his resignation.

Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Investigative journalism reached its peak with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post. Their pursuit of illegal activities involving President Nixon ultimately led to the Watergate investigation and his resignation.

They spent years working sources, like the famed "Deep Throat", and had the support of the newspaper's editors and owner.

Woodward and Bernstein are immortalized in the best-selling book and Academy Award-winning film All the President's Men. Both the book and the movie show what it took to get one of the biggest news stories of the 20th century.

This had many journalists eager to pursue investigative work. In the years since, corporate and political pressures have often made this kind of reporting tough.

1979: Iran Hostage Crisis Creates New Type of TV News Program

Library of Congress / WikiCommons 

America suffers through political crises regularly, but outside of war, the Iran hostage crisis grabbed the country's attention like few others. Iranian militants captured 52 Americans after seizing the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

TV viewers needed information beyond the networks' evening newscasts. ABC News created a late-night news program that eventually became Nightline.

Today, we take these programs for granted, but this was a year before the birth of CNN. Americans had few choices for news coverage.

Nightline was different from a show like 60 Minutes because it was produced each day with live elements made possible by new satellite technology. Nowhere else could viewers get the day's top story with interviews and analysis.

1986: Children Witness Disaster on Live TV

A picture of pieces flying after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Picture courtesy of the NASA Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC)

Space shuttle launches had become so routine by 1986 that broadcast TV networks no longer provided live coverage. But thousands of school children were eagerly watching NASA TV for the January launch of the Challenger.

That's because teacher Christa McAuliffe would be the first private citizen to fly – she was already a household name.

The children got a close-up look at human tragedy when the space shuttle exploded. Parents, who might otherwise have broken the sad news of the disaster to their children at home, instead had to explain what their sons and daughters had witnessed in their classrooms.

The media lesson was simple. Live TV never offers the chance to preview content before it is seen. The unknown can be heartbreaking.

1987: Fairness Doctrine Repeal Creates Modern Talk Radio

Rush Limbaugh on radio show

 Getty images /​ Mark Peterson

Most radio listeners wouldn't recognize why the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of the Fairness Doctrine was a landmark decision. But the effects are easy to see.

The doctrine required broadcasters who allowed discussions of controversial issues on their airwaves to present opposing viewpoints. Starting in 1949, it was the law.

Once it was repealed, talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh could present just one side of an issue. A host could even push a political agenda.

Today, talk radio is dominated by politically conservative hosts. People with liberal leanings are free to create their own programs, but most have not attracted large audiences. The marketplace made that decision, not the government.

1991: The Persian Gulf War is Broadcast on Live TV

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force

Technology presented new opportunities in media coverage when America entered the Persian Gulf War with Iraq. People at home could watch live as the conflict unfolded.

While major events of World War II were covered live on the radio, and the Vietnam War was presented on film, satellites made live TV coverage possible.

Because the conflict produced a quick U.S. victory, military leaders like Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf became instant celebrities. President George H.W. Bush's popularity soared.

But political leaders learned what those in media already knew -- live broadcasts have almost no shelf life. Bush's popularity plummeted, and he was defeated for re-election a year later.

1994: O.J. Simpson Drama Rivets the World's Attention

O.J. Simpson Criminal Trial
WireImage / Getty Images

When the O.J. Simpson story broke, people rushed to their TVs to follow the most compelling story of the decade. One of the country's most-loved football stars was charged with killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Because the story unfolded in Los Angeles, the tools were there to cover it. The live helicopter shots of Simpson fleeing in a Ford Bronco wouldn't have been possible in a remote area.

California, unlike some states, allows cameras in courtrooms. When Simpson was put on trial, the testimony was available for people to watch – and millions did.

If not for TV, the "Trial of the Century" would've been a footnote in entertainment and sports history. Instead, it became a real-life legal drama no one can forget.

1998: Monica Lewinsky Scandal Puts Sex in the Mainstream

Monica Lewinsky
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Taboo sex topics were forced onto news media because of the scandalous relationship between President Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Never before had sex and politics become so entwined that it would impact U.S. history.

Words never before printed in newspapers or uttered by news anchors provided important details to the investigation. Because Clinton's presidency was at stake, this story was more than just steamy fodder for the supermarket tabloids.

In the end, both Clinton's marriage and his presidency survived, even though he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. But media coverage of his recklessness further tarnished Americans' views of the presidency.

2000: Presidential Election Errors in Judgment

Former Vice-President Al Gore

If you ever wanted to see a network TV news anchor squirm under pressure, election night 2000 provided the chance. They all had to do the unthinkable on live TV -- retract their network's projections over who won.

They must have thought, "Are we the only ones to mess this up?" when they backtracked. That evening, they reported the race was Gore's, then "too close to call", then Bush's, then "too close to call" by the next day.

The only accurate projection was that the race was indeed too close to call. No one's estimates could handle a margin of just a few hundred votes.

We'll probably never again see a presidential race remain in question for so long. But we'll always remember how the news media exposed the flaws in the election process.

2001: Covering 9/11, the Country's Worst Disaster

Fire fighters amid smoking rubble after September 11th terrorist attack

 Library of Congress / WikiCommons

Reporters have witnessed countless disasters, but nothing like the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The violence changed how post-9/11 news is covered.

Threats of new attacks are covered seriously. Rumors of violence have journalists re-thinking what is news. Rumors are now reported if they have credibility.

That's due in part to the government's color-coded terror alert system. When the government decided there was enough danger to change the code level, like from yellow to orange or red, the news media reported it.

The alert system was retired in 2011. But its effects remain -- possible violence is now reported, no matter how vague the information, even though most people now shrug off bulletins of possible trouble.

2007: Social Media Takes the Lead in Breaking News

A candlelight vigil held to commemorate the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting.


The Virginia Tech shooting massacre left 32 people dead. Because it happened on a college campus, tech-savvy students showed the world the future of breaking news coverage.

TV news crews weren't necessary. Text messages relayed information while cell phone video could be transmitted in an instant.

This was a milestone in citizen journalism. The photos and video didn't have the polish of a professional news organization, but they captured the panic that people on campus felt.

In the future, consumers will decide if that's how they want their news. Everyday people producing raw news now compete with professional journalists, whose corporate sheen leaves some believing they're never getting the real news.