The Future of News Could Be Risky

“Inside Story” by Richard Wilson, was a 1957 episode of the science fiction series “X-Minus-One.” It featured a reporter for “Galactic News Service” (GNS) investigating a mysterious epidemic on a colonized planet. (Curiously “X-Minus-One” was for part of its run embedded in NBC’s “Nightline” series, a radio magazine that also included news and feature interviews. Walter O’Keefe’s Nightline introduction is included on this recording.)

MansfieldTTYThe sounds of old-fashioned teletype machines persisted into this program’s future, along with editors’ continuing belief in a “silly season” between legislative sessions, when slack news prompts reporters to run dull Zoological Society stories on the longevity of Martian sand lizards, or risk stretching things despite something called the “Publications Responsibility Act of 1997.” That law apparently carried a 20-year prison sentence for some cases of “fan the flames” irresponsible journalism! (Note that 1997 was exactly 40 years in the future at the time of the broadcast. Meanwhile, that teletype machine in the photo is the actual one my Hartford Courant Mansfield bureau colleagues and I used to bang out stories in the 1970s. It was replaced with a computer and modem around 1979, which is why I’m amused to hear teletype noises continuing into the days of interplanetary travel on this X Minus One episode.)

Like many newspaper dramas since the days of Nellie Bly, the 1957 broadcast “Inside Story” has a reporter going undercover to get a scoop. In this high-tech future his “cover” is literal — an invisible suit designed to protect him from whatever mutated virus has caused an epidemic on the planet called Null-E (or “nullie”) fever. Symptoms of the disease include madness and violence, and it’s pretty brave of the reporter to go out with only a plastic film protecting himself from people who are irrational, belligerent, and infectious.

On the plus side, the drama shows that even space-age reporters would be willing to risk life and limb for a story.

“I may be a little reckless following a story but believe me there isn’t a bonus big enough to make a hero out of me. I had no intention to contracting Null-E fever just to provide a byline story for old GNS…”

His heatproof, air-tight invisible suit also may be a case of journalists being too ready to dive into new technology. Its “miniature dental mic hanging on a front tooth” does sound impressive, though. And so does the reporter’s dedication to getting the story, interviewing a paranoid “nullie” victim who is an admitted murderer, and an armed guard threatening to kill him for crossing into a mysterious gang’s private territory.

Under intimidation from the rival gang, he even joins a screaming mob crossing that border.
In the end, he gets quite a story, although the 20-minute drama does seem to rush to the ending, with a lot of medical reporting, a quarantine, come communication hacks, and still the sound of those old-fashioned teletypes clacking in the background — apparently 1957’s view of the future didn’t include CRT monitors, digital news files and laser printers.

NOTES: I’m also adding a duplicate of this blog post to an update of my always-in-progress overview page about newspaper characters in radio’s science fiction dramas.

Meanwhile, I haven’t read much about the “NBC Nightline” radio program, which apparently combined introductions to series like “X Minus One” and “Biography in Sound” with feature interviews and news reporting. For example, the blog linked below has more than an hour of another Walter O’Keefe era broadcast, juxtaposing a contemporary 1957 Cold War report about the first U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launch with an interview with an eyewitness to the Wright Brothers first airplane flight more than a half-century earlier! Richard Burton and Susan Strasberg are also interviewed about their current Broadway play, and there is some Hanukkah-Chritmas news.
Thanks to audio collector Gordon Skene for sharing this as part of his Past Daily blog, December 17, 1957.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1950s, adventure, journalism, reporters, science fiction, sensationalism, undercover. Bookmark the permalink.

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