Friday, October 03, 2008

Breaking News Is Not Always Broken

All the news that's fit to print but not necessarily. When I was a journalist many eons ago, all the news that was fit to print probably was. Back then news was actually news and when a newsflash was announced in big bold ominous letters on the screen -- it was really was breaking news.

These days when you see the words on the screen “breaking news,” more often than not they're just trying to get your attention.

Newsrooms in print, television and radio, are in the business of being in business. So, what this means is they make more money with more viewers, watchers and listeners. How do they get more people to watch? Easy, all they do is call something “breaking news” and figure you’re more likely to read, watch and listen.

But, sadly most of the time this so-called “breaking news” isn’t really anything more than just another news story. Sometimes, it may even be the big story of the day, or in some cases, just some government official giving a live press conference on some report which in a couple of months will all but be forgotten.

Being Canadian, I grew up on the CBC and Peter Mansbridge’s solid reporting style. I remember watching many real breaking news stories told by Mansbridge over the years. From the space shuttle Challenger explosion in the 1980’s, to the death of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the 1990’s, to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in the 2000’s. These all were legitimate, and real “breaking news” stories.

These days, I see the words “breaking news” tossed onto just about every newscast at least once, on everything from stories about some cat stuck in a tree, to stories about gas prices on the way up. None of these are what professionally trained journalists – such as myself – would call “breaking news.”

Nope, these are just poor attempts at getting more people to pay attention. Which says something awful about the news media today.

Back in the day, when I was a journalist, we never had to make up the news to get people to pay attention – if it was news, there were always people interested.

These days, journalists seem to have lost their sense of what is and is not news. They go out and cover everything and anything which happens, hoping that their editors will run it, and that you will be interested enough to read, watch and listen to it.

I don’t know who is at fault – the editors for hiring people that don’t know how to do their jobs, journalists for not knowing how to do their jobs, or journalism schools for not teaching journalists how to correctly do their jobs. All I know is what I see – and what I see disappoints me, frustrates me, and makes me wonder how I’m supposed to stay informed, when those trained to keep us in the know, don’t know.
Granted, we do live in a far different world than the one in which I was a journalist. When I was a young reporter, we only had a handful of major daily papers, television stations and satellite radio didn’t exist. The Internet was still just a dream, and everyone watched at least one late night newscast, read at least one daily paper, and then fell asleep to Johnny Carson on the “Tonight” show.

These days, we have far too many newspapers, more television stations than any one person could ever really watch in lifetime, and an Internet full of instant information from reliable and not-so-reliable sources.

I can see how understand how easy it is to fall into an informational overloaded burn out. But journalists – print, radio and television – are supposed to be able to filter through all the information, and make sense of it for you and I.

That is their job. Or at least, that was my job when I was a journalist, and I worked in television, radio and print, so pardon me while I toot my own horn – I really do know what their job is supposed to be.

I know if you don’t like what you read, hear or watch, you can easily just go elsewhere for your news. I can change the channel, turn off the radio, or even just stop reading the paper.

I can surf the net for the information, and try to find the real sources, and wade through the trashy sources.

But I shouldn’t have to do that – that is no different than me taking on a co-worker’s tasks, because that co-worker is incompetent and unable to do his or her job.

Maybe there lies the real problem – today’s news media is just incompetent when it comes to actually doing their job?

1 comment:

  1. You are obviously not the only one questioning the use of the term "Breaking News". You may find this site interesting: