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Contours of Corporate History: National Crises and the News Business

Forty years ago today, the once stately broadcast news business began moving faster. As with most fundamental change in American corporate history, there was a crisis behind it. Starting in the fall of 1979, the American Broadcasting Corporation began running “America Held Hostage,” a late-night news program that breathlessly counted down the days of captivity during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

It was soon evident that the hostages were in for the long haul and that late-night news could compete against NBC’s Tonight Show. So on March 24, 1980, ABC renamed the show Nightline. The program accustomed its viewers to both Ted Koppel and coverage of satellite-fed immediacy. The cycle sped up when Ted Turner launched his network three months later, but it took another crisis, the 1991 Gulf War, for CNN to truly hook viewers on 24-hour coverage. Fox News and MSNBC joined the maelstrom in 1996, but neither was sure to endure until September 11, 2001 provided yet another boost to instant news. That’s when Fox News began running the relentless ticker along the bottom of the screen. It has never stopped.