Nobody much watches video online for yesterday’s news, but later in November, that ought to change. The nation notes the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22 , and while media are probably more in the business of marking dates in five and ten year increments than most people, the events that day and weekend in Dallas were momentous. Coverage of the 50th anniversary of its occurrence will be too.
It is hard not to have seen that little snippet of footage when CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite announced, with finality, that Kennedy was indeed dead. Cronkite read, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: ‘President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time,’ 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.' ” That sadly iconic moment in American history has that same status in TV news history, but it was Cronkite and CBS coverage, more than NBC and ABC that we remember. Earlier than that confirmation, a young Dan Rather and others had reported, in careful and unofficial terms, that Kennedy was dead.
On the week of the event, CBSNews.com will rewind the years, and show how the network covered the assassination, and subsequently, Lee Harvey Oswald’s capture and murder three days later, and concluding with the funeral .
What will make this particularly interesting is that CBSNews.com will do all of that in real time, actually twice. The first time the Website will show the coverage will begin at 1:48 p.m. Eastern, on Monday Nov. 18, and continue, as events and coverage actually unfolded, through Thursday. When things go dark—as they did back then before wall-to-wall news, the CBS feed of the coverage will be dark too.
Then, on Friday Nov.22, CBSNews.com will do that all again. But the second showing will really be a reality check, because that was the actual date of the event, which also was a Friday. It concludes Monday, Nov. 25 with the funeral. Apparently, CBSNews.com feared a one-time, real-time showing would miss a lot of people leaving over the weekend for a long Thanksgiving break, and that by then, other news organizations will have been spending the whole week covering the anniversary.
A schedule on the site will let viewers know when to tune in to the streaming coverage to watch various events. All the footage will be available on-demand on CBSNews.com after the first four-day streaming period.
Marc DeBevoise, CBS Interactive executive vice president and general manager, says CBS has no idea how many will watch this kind of sad re-creation of the event, though, obviously, he thinks it will be a blend of older viewers, who “hate to say it, but might want to recall their own emotions at that time” and younger viewers who weren’t alive.
“I don’t think anyone in the business can do what we are going to do,” he says. “For one, places like CNN didn’t even exist back then. I think we have the only anchor, Bob Schieffer, who was actually there.”
(In a bizarre twist, Schieffer was then a young reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and answered a random newsroom phone call amid the chaos after the assassination was reported. On the other end was Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, who had seen reports of the shooting and said she needed a ride to Dallas. “Lady, this is not a taxi, and besides the president has been shot,” he told her. She responded, “I know. They think my son in the one who shot him.” That led to Schieffer selling his first freelance piece to CBS, and a very unusual ride to Dallas.)
CBSNews.com had 16.2 million viewers in September, a sizable, but not breathtaking audience compared to other news organizations. There have been recent reports that it’s planning a 24-hour news channel that would be streamed online, though CBS, and DeBevoise won’t acknowledge much about that beyond the “we’ve- talked-about-it” kind of generalities, and the observation that “some stories about it have been more accurate than others.”
Yet, if it were to exist, it’s likely CBS would use it to repurpose news it’s put out there already produced from various sources, including affiliates and owned-stations. As one of the major sources of news radio (the “give-us-22-minutes-and-we’ll-give-you-the-world” kind of thing), CBS could use that model from the oldest medium as a template for its news service, the way CNN’s old version of Headline News once operated. As online increasingly morphs with television, and viewers get news from various devices, online may be an idea whose time has come; if so, by circumstance, CBSNews.com might be a site online users will traffic a lot more other than once every 50 years.