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See It Again: The Work of History in the 1990s American Cable Television News Genre

  • Author(s): Sharma, Sudeep
  • Advisor(s): Caldwell, John T
  • et al.
Abstract

American cable television news has emerged as one of the most important and contested media genres in the United States over the past three and a half decades. In this dissertation, I examine cable television news in the 1990s, a transformative period of industrial and cultural change, and consider how the continuous, 24-hour coverage of the genre represented, constructed and problematized "history". By packaging history as a programming form that I term "historicizing news programs (HNPs)" at the beginning of the decade, 24-hour cable television news created a framework that brought cohesion to its continual coverage and brought together viewers, producers, events and time into a coherent whole. By the end of the decade, political and technological pressures lead to fundamental changes in the workings of the cable television news genre and its use of history. My dissertation is one of the first to consider 1990s television news from a critical humanities/media studies perspective and will help open new avenues for scholars to think about genre and its relationship to history.

First, I explain how my study of television news is in the tradition of media studies and its views of historiography in contrast to journalism studies, communication studies and other scholarship that focus on television as primarily a technology of instantaneity and presence. Using textual, discourse, and institutional analysis of written and visual texts and other artifacts, I then provide four in-depth case studies for how depictions of history worked industrially and culturally during the 1990s. The first looks at the rise of HNPs following the 1991 Gulf War on CNN. The second shows the spread of HNPs to sports cable television news and how they provided a point of contrast with the liveness that defined the genre. The last two case studies show the shift in how history was performed by cable television news, with the third explaining the politicization of history due to the political conflict of the Culture Wars and the fourth the outsourcing of history into the "cloud" due to the disruptive force of new media technologies.

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