Coverage of JFK’s assassination was, as Newton Minow said at the time, when “broadcasting grew up.” TV was ill-prepared for a story of that magnitude, but it quickly got its act together and showed that it was the new force in breaking news. And despite advances in technology and the introduction of new media, nothing has fundamentally changed in the past 50 years. You can’t beat broadcasting’s network-affiliate partnership.
Starting this afternoon at 1:38 p.m. ET, CBSNews.com will begin streaming the same coverage CBS aired at that exact moment in 1963 and continue streaming it through JFK’s funeral on the following Monday, just as it happened 50 years ago on a Friday. This is as close to reliving the media event as it can be — kind of real-time coverage, 50 years later. I can’t recall an instance of this kind of echo chamber — a media event about a media event, extraordinary in itself.
Fifty years ago, Bert Shipp was assistant news director at Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA. He assigned himself to cover President John F. Kennedy’s scheduled luncheon speech. Instead he found himself at the center of the biggest story of his career and one that filled the air of his and the other stations in town with four days of nonstop coverage. He talks about what that day meant to him and to the still-young medium of television news.
Coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago signaled, at last, that television could fulfill its grand promise. It could be “more than wires and lights in a box,” in the words of newsman Edward R. Murrow, and not just the “vast wasteland” that FCC Chairman Newton Minow had branded it just two years before. Rising to an unprecedented challenge, television could perform an incalculable public service. It could hold the country together: Americans convened in a video vigil, gathering before an electronic hearth. Nonstop broadcasts by America’s three networks provided a sense of unity, a chance to grieve together, a startling closeness to distant events.