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In order to begin broadcasting news on the television, NBC had to find the perfect format that could easily be understood by the audience. They started by experimenting with the combination of the method used by radio stations and the method used by theatrical newsreels. The news-anchor would recite the news while music played in the background, complimenting photos, filmed events, and headlines that were displayed on the screen. This program was first used by NBC in 1940 on a show called "The Esso Television Reporter" that was financed by Standard Oil.
During World War II, all of the progress that NBC was making towards developing a professional news show stopped by command of the Federal Communications Commission. Once the war ended, NBC started right back where they had left off and premiered the "NBC Tele-Newsreel" on August 5, 1945. Newsreels from theatrical companies solely supported this show. Although NBC was not pleased that they had to be reliant upon a company for their information because it was costly and hard to receive promptly, they had to deal with the setback until they could find a way to become self-reliant. In 1948, they experimented with a show called "NBC Newsroom" that had three men reading the news. It was similar to radio, but it lost the public's interest because the room "was very dull-looking and not what the public thought a newsroom should look like" (Karnick, 87).
At the same time, the theatrical companies wanted to create their own showcase, and they did not want to compete with networks, which was difficult for the networks because they lacked the appropriate technology. Therefore, in 1947, R.J. Reynolds and 20th-Century Fox agreed to a 10-minute newsreel called "Camel Newsreel Theater" that was shown daily on NBC. It only lasted a year because of poor quality, and Reynolds eventually combined with NBC film in 1949 to create the "Camel News Caravan" that was hosted by John Cameron Swayze. This program included newsreel along with a reading of the news. Although NBC was still looking for the most efficient way to broadcast the news, "Camel News Caravan" was the show that led the way to the formats of news-shows today.
THE EXPANSION OF NEWS GATHERING
When NBC began airing the news over television, they borrowed labor and equipment from radio. Soon the theatrical newsreels were added into the news programs. In 1950 the most popular newsreels were remote on-the-spot coverage, newsreel film, still pictures, headline shows, and television newspapers (Page 89).
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In the late 1940's and early 1950's, NBC further expanded their television news by developing seven main bureaus across the United States. The seven cities included New York, Chicago, Washington, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Dallas, and San Francisco, where the network developed exchange agreements with affiliate and independent stations for news film. This resulted in a need to expand the News Department both in staff (24 new photographers and editors were hired) along with equipment (38 cameras, 18 mobile units and 16 reports and correspondents).
In addition to the expansion in the United States, NBC established exclusive exchange agreements with newsreel companies in other countries. In doing this, NBC guaranteed that the newsreel material provided to then would solely be provided to NBC. These agreements were entered into without the expectation of immediate profits; rather they were to gain an early advantage over other networks that had not yet developed newsreel organizations. The newsreel production put NBC at an advantage over competitors. The viewers benefited from the agreements with oversee newsreel companies as well. Thus, strengthening these agreements would allow NBC to hold their advantage with the viewers.
In the early 1950's, NBC was not satisfied with the degree of coverage obtained by other networks. Since they wanted more film coverage, they were forced to seek additional avenues of distribution. IN 1951, they formed their own newsreel syndication service knows as the Daily News Syndication (DNS). While the service sounded promising, the result was far from what was expected. Complaints were received about the quality of the footage and stations became uninterested less than two months after the operation began. Shipments to stations arrived late, there was not enough footage and a lack of diversity in the newsreels led to cancellation of this service to networks. The future of NBC was changed further when their most profitable news programs ran into financial problems, forcing NBC to consolidate their costs and minimize expenses.
THE END OF EXPANSION
NBC was the only network with a complete news film service until 1953, when CBS created its own film service and library. NBC continued to dump funding into its news operations; production costs for "Camel News Caravan" had doubled within three years. In 1953, as profits continued to decline steadily, R. J. Reynolds cut "Caravan's" budget by $300,000 (Karnick, 93).
NBC, in its effort to cut spending, created a Central News Desk through which all filmed footage must be cleared before being shot. This system proved effective in reducing costs at the expense of the spontaneity of NBC's stringers. Several other cuts and miscellaneous restrictions were set in place that steered NBC Television News in the direction of today's news format. This shift involved more focus on known figures and planned events, and less time spent shooting stories that might not turn out to be newsworthy. It was during this time that permanent cameras were set up in the White House for the President's weekly press conference.
In 1953, economic crisis caused NBC to consider discarding its interests in news film operations. CBS entered the newsfilm business at the same time, complicating matters further. CBS was able to lure affiliates away by undercutting prices and offering more control over programming. In 1954, CBS's total time sales surpassed NBC's for the first time. The pressure led to more transformations inside of NBC. Expansion slowed as they attempted to keep pace with CBS. They even considered- but ultimately rejected- the notion of luring Edward R. Murrow away from CBS. They searched for an answer to CBS's Murrow until 1957; in the same year, they finally began to turn around their failing News and Special Affairs Division.
NBC's innovation in the 40's and 50's had a tremendous impact on news as we view it today. Coverage of politicians in Washington, focus on disasters and tragedies, and today's emphasis on charismatic anchors all stem from problems NBC was forced to deal with in its earliest days of television broadcasting. NBC's pioneering efforts paved the way for other broadcasters, who picked up and exploited their innovations over the decades.