The television news business has not changed much since Sept. 11, 2001.
Perhaps we are covering more serious stories than we used to, but it seems more accurate to say that more serious stories are happening -- involving not just Al Qaeda, but Palestinians and Jews, among others. Perhaps we are paying more attention to matters relating to security than we used to, but it seems more accurate to say that security is a greater concern to a greater number of people than it once was. Perhaps we are covering the war on terror even when the developments are minor, but it seems more accurate to point out that even minor developments at present might lead to major events in the future.
And we might be a little more thoughtful than we used to be, a little more cautious. We have more debates than we had in the past about what is appropriate and what is not -- debates about whether to show horrifying video, about whether to report confidential information.
We are still covering tabloid stories, especially stories about abducted children, but perhaps that is, in part, a matter of increased sensitivity: We in the news business in America are showing our regard for human life, every single human life, especially every single young human life, or at least as many of those young human lives whose imperiled conditions we can fit into our broadcasts.
But if journalism is pretty much what it was a year ago, you are not. Those of you who watch us and read us have changed. You are not watching and reading the way that you used to, and you have let us know it.
Remember the flag lapel pin controversy? In some ways, it was the most trivial of all post-Sept. 11 stories; you can't tell what is in a person's heart by what is on his suit coat.
But in other ways, the lapel pin controversy was one of the most important stories of the past 12 months, because it let journalists know how much patriotism mattered now to those in their audience. It was not that you wanted the world to be presented to you through red-white-and-blue glasses; it was that you wanted to know that you, and those who reported to you, were on the same side. It had always been important to you; now it was more important than ever.
You did not mind journalists asking tough questions of Donald Rumsfeld or other government officials at press briefings, but you did not want them asking unfair questions, or questions that seemed to show the old cynicism, the old self-interest, the old disrespect for those in positions of authority.
You did not mind Dan Rather's tears on David Letterman's TV show, and when I questioned Rather's sincerity in this space, you questioned my decency.
You are in some ways tougher than you used to be, in some ways more emotional. You care more than ever before about the humanity of your anchors and correspondents and columnists. You used to want humanity; now you demand it. And with humanity must come fairness, especially to the victims of terrorism or other kinds of injustice.
In the last year, reporters have been the bearers of some very bad tidings. The Catholic Church is not as moral as some people would like to think. Big business is not as ethical as some people would like to think. The FBI is not as efficient as some people would like to think. It has been a difficult time for people watching the news on television and reading it in the newspapers. The press is, in most ways, the same old business, but it had some terrible new things to report to an audience that is less tolerant than ever before of journalistic shortcomings.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .