The trouble with the 24/7 news cycle is that the frantic rush to be on top of “breaking news” by networks like CBC News World, BBC World, CNN, Al Jazeera and others who strive to ride the Everest of the ratings can distort the importance of events. They have to get it first and dare not miss a single detail. Every disaster is examined frame by frame. Broadcasters reach out to every time zone, seeking, sometimes provoking reactions and comments that will add depth or pizzazz to the story. The question of balance is an ongoing challenge; to be certain they cover both/all sides of the story they seek out alternative and dissenting voices, even if they represent only a small slice of the prevailing opinion. They decide what’s important, and what isn’t.
In the digital age news is constantly evolving. With the growing sophistication of the forensic arts and sciences new facts can emerge at any moment, changing the very nature of how events are perceived. Every minute of every hour there’s a disaster playing out somewhere in the world. “If it bleeds it leads” goes the old maxim. When I was a young broadcaster preparing the morning news run, the first order of business was to call the police and fire stations to check out what tragedies and disasters might have occurred overnight. My young colleagues and I took news very seriously; this was history in the making,
Some of us tried to model ourselves after the great American broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow, whose gravelly-voiced reports set a very high bar. This was the way news should be reported. Some months ago I heard a senior CBC news anchor inviting people to stay tuned to the “show”. It’s not supposed to be entertainment, I said in an e-mail about it and now he refers to the report as a “program”.
Because of the constant state of breathless expectation maintained by many news anchors and columnists it’s easy to become addicted to these sources. There is always “breaking news” somewhere in the world. “Stay with us!” as if everything is a matter of life or death, is the standard hand off when they have to take a commercial break. You stay tuned, even leaving the TV on while you attend to other tasks and responsibilities, not wanting to miss out on being informed.
In another era, back in the fifties and sixties, Dean Kaye at CFCF in Montreal, Jack Dennett at CFRB in Toronto and Walter Cronkite in New York were perceived as unassailable authorities on the news they delivered. We worried less about missing anything because, in each case, their comprehensive six o’clock reports were perceived to cover everything you needed to know. Twenty-four hour television news channels and their radio counterparts were still part of the future of an exploding broadcast landscape. When I was topping the ratings on CJCA, Edmonton’s morning “Talk Back”, we were competing in an eight station market. Today there are twenty-nine. Early in my career (back in the fifties) I used to write the 6:00 pm news that Dean Kaye delivered every week day evening, pulling together teletype wire reports and stories developed in our own newsroom. Give him the words, and everything that came out of his mouth in that sober baritone voice (not quite Lorne Green, the deep voiced Toronto announcer and later Bonanza star, but close) sounded like it came from the highest authority. The six o’clock news was a must listen destination that affected how you set up your day. Appointment radio!
Today, of course, you can listen to (or watch) the six o’clock news or any other program any time you want to. Disintermediation describes how many people get their news today. Social media make the people and organizations who mediate, who organize and analyze the news increasingly redundant. There are “bots” which can be set to cull the news you want from the minute by minute torrent.
Fewer and fewer of us today rely on so-called mainstream sources for the information we need or want. We dig into the tsunami of reports to apprehend the news that is important to us. In its extreme form, as we older folk perceive the teen age world, it leads to a dangerous imbalance in how they approach their lives and careers.
But who knew that the young people who became billionaires creating Face Book, Google, etc., etc., etc., were kids who saw the world differently?