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Nation gathers around screens

Think about Barack Obama's inauguration as America's 44th president today, and a natural question arises: Has there ever been a moment so historic that will receive so much media coverage?

Comparable landmarks in recent history — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech or the start of the first Persian Gulf War — may have equal space in history's reckoning, but they couldn't have occupied a fraction of the media space on tap for today's swearing-in ceremony.

Forget the record 2-million to 3-million people expected to fill the National Mall today in person. The unique combination of singular news event, possibility of tragedy (if the crowd is unruly or Obama is somehow hurt) and huge potential audience ensures more attention from more media platforms than any event since, well, the November elections.

Of course, all the major TV networks and cable news channels will offer coverage, starting with morning shows in the early morning, through the actual inauguration at 11:30 a.m. and into the evening's prime-time offerings. Online, fans stuck at work can find streaming video on all major TV outlets' Web sites, along with unusual partnerships between Current TV and Twitter or CNN and Facebook to present streaming video punctuated by individual users' commentary.

Even the presidential inaugural committee has its own YouTube page and will stream video of some inaugural balls.

In a fractured media universe where only American Idol and the Super Bowl can pull us together before TV's electronic hearth, this is a singular event. But instead of seeing this history through a few filters, we will watch the proceedings filtered through a thousand Twitter jibes and cable news pundits.

How would our understanding of other world-shattering events be affected by such a deluge of perspectives? Would we remember John F. Kennedy Jr. so fondly if there had been a blog post to critique his salute to his father's coffin? Will we spend so much time dissecting Michelle Obama's hemline that we miss the actual history?

Meanwhile, skeptics wonder if journalists can keep the distance they'll need to judge this singular president if they usher in his arrival with days of gushing commentary and commemorative editions.

Indeed, that may be the challenge modern media faces today, even as Obama turns toward two wars, a disintegrating economy and more: cutting through the noise to give this singular president the coverage he — and we — truly deserve.

.Fast facts

What 5 moments
do you remember?

See Eric Deggans' blog at for a list of five comparable historic TV events.

Inauguration coverage

In addition to the morning network news shows and the live coverage at 11 a.m. on stations ranging from PBS to BET, there are some prime-time shows:

The Neighborhood Ball: An Inauguration Celebration, ABC, 8 p.m.: President Obama hosts the first Neighborhood Ball.

Change and Challenge: The
Inauguration of Barack Obama,
CBS 9 p.m.: Barack Obama's journey to
the White House; highlights of the day's activities; Americans share their stories of the inauguration.

Dateline NBC, NBC, 10 p.m.: This special has reports from the inaugural galas, with highlights of the night's biggest events.

Nation gathers around screens 01/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 5:59pm]
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