A message came in yesterday from a Rifftides reader who did not identify himself except to write, “I am going to be 25 in July and I consider myself not to be like most young people who at my age are probably getting their news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.”
The anonymous correspondent said that he had read last September’s posting about Katie Couric’s debut on The CBS Evening News. He went on…
I found it to be fascinating, it turned up when I was doing a search for any information about the program’s new theme music by James Horner. I collect news theme music packages made for television, and as an aspiring musician myself I have been working on things very similar to that music which has been used for news programs. Do you think that this often-times bombastic and urgent sounding music has basically added to the sensationalization of TV news? It’s bad enough that newscasts often report stories having to do with celebrities of questionable morals or display shocking video to be replayed over and over again. I would like your opinion on this.
I thought no one would ever ask.
When I started doing television news, most newscasts had no theme music. Huntley-Brinkley on NBC used the first few bars of the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite had some kind of perfunctory opening and closing music, but I can’t for the life of me bring it to mind. Sometime in the 1960s, theme music became de rigueur. The use of music going into commercial breaks during newscasts soon followed. After the discovery that news could be a major profit center and consultants began flourishing, music in newscasts metastisized. It is far from the worst thing about what most television news has become, but it has helped to devalue news and erase the line between news and entertainment.
What most news organizations have become today are basically brand names, like products you would buy in a store. Music is only there probably because they want something to identify with, and these consultants say more people “listen” to television than watch it, at least that’s what I read when I was reading about this theme for CBS. It’s like a jingle for a breakfast cereal or something. Basically the music I have composed is for sports programs but it has been inspired by modern network news theme music and upon listening to the various packages, I have learned how to customize music for television. I certainly would not want to contribute to blurring the line between news and entertainment in any way if I were doing this professionally, which I am not, but either way I wouldn’t.