How the JFK assassination transformed media coverage

Thu Nov 21, 2013 1:00pm EST
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By Jon Herskovitz

DALLAS (Reuters) - Six seconds in Dallas 50 years ago changed the way media worked for decades to come.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was a transformative live, global TV news event. It swept an industry without a playbook for covering a breaking story of such magnitude and utterly changed how people receive their news.

For four days, starting with gunfire in Dallas and ending with Kennedy's funeral procession in Washington, major U.S. TV networks went live with wall-to-wall coverage, suspending commercials.

Other live TV news events followed, and the next time networks devoted as much time to commercial-free news broadcasts came with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

"The Kennedy assassination became the template for coverage," said Bob Schieffer, who 50 years ago covered the event for the Fort Worth Star Telegram and is now a veteran broadcaster with CBS.

"We were working in one of the worst moments of the nation's life back then and we didn't know what to make of it, much like what happened on 9/11," he told Reuters.

The technology was primitive in 1963, but the idea was born of broadcasting live from the scene, having an anchor for the coverage and letting the images do the talking when possible.

Some of the tasks were daunting, such as moving studio TV cameras that weighed hundreds of pounds into places such as Dallas police headquarters and stringing heavy cables up a wall and through the police chief's office.   Continued...

Mourners look on during the burial and folding of the flag ceremony for former U.S. President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, in this handout image taken on November 25, 1963. REUTERS/The White House