At a time when millions of New Yorkers prefer to listen to their news (or news podcasts) within their own personal digital cocoons, it's worth remembering that the biggest media events of the 20th century were consumed collectively, in crowds, while we stood on the sidewalk.
When Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, thousands of people found out by watching the famous "Zipper" in Times Square. And in February 1962, when John Glenn became the first human to orbit the Earth, 4,000 people packed the floors of Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street to watch the event on a 12-by-16-foot screen that CBS had set up over the ticket counter. People could just as easily have gotten this news from newspapers, radio or (in Glenn's case) TV, but there's something about sharing the news with a crowd that helps to stamp it on our national consciousness.
Technology usually does a great job of killing tradition, but it's nice to see the old days aren't quite over yet. Sony and News Corp. just announced they'll partner to mount a massive 35-by-40-foot digital LED screen in the middle of Times Square at Broadway and West 43rd Street. Sure, the high-resolution color monitor is a commercial venture—it'll show movie trailers and commercials, no doubt for murderous rates—but the programming, we're told, will also include news. Even better, the response on the street won't be limited to muttering and elbow jabs. Viewers below will be able to reply to poll questions via text message, with the results displayed overhead in real time.
One can only wonder what those responses might have looked like for an event like D-Day or the Cold War marvel of a space orbit. Well, Sony, while we know you did this to make a fortune, thanks for carrying on a tradition just the same.