All that has changed. It now appears that events become worthy of mention as news not because of their significance but because there is video. Local television stations report car chases from the other side of the country just because they have film taken from the traffic chopper. It drives me nuts.
I have a high regard for the contribution journalism makes to society. My oldest son is a professional journalist, a career path I once imagined for myself before I got diverted, whether for good or ill. I'm proud of my son's career and he and I have had many conversations about journalistic ethics. I've learned a lot from his experiences. I am not a persistent critic of print or electronic journalism. I'm something of a media junkie myself and probably spend way too much time with newspapers and news channels.
However, this "Breaking News" thing is just too much. It apparently is calculated to lend a sense of immediacy and urgency to a story. But what results is that the lead story becomes whatever is the most immediate traffic accident, hold-up at the 7-Eleven, or Brittany Spears DUI. It all depends, of course, on whether there is video.
It's becoming a joke, but in my opinion it isn't funny. The trivialization of local news, which seems to be happening around the country, is having a debilitating affect on the sharing of information necessary to the building of community.
Larry King Live, a nightly hour-long interview show, devote night after night to high profile crimes, usually those involving beautiful white women. Apart from the hypocrisy of treating crime as entertainment, and criminals as stars, this unfortunate practice misses the opportunity to provide dialogue on the important issues of our time.
The 24 hour news channels are now going the "Breaking News" route. MSNBC, Fox, and CNN are all scrolling the hot news stories across the bottom of the screen. My 20 inch television, an object of scorn from my kids, displays the various layers of scrolling news banners at a point just below the nose of the talking heads. The announcement of Britanny Spears most recent divorce filing was presented as a "Breaking News" banner scrolling across the forehead of Wolf Blitzer.
All is not lost, of course. There are important and dependable outlets for serious news. I rarely miss Meet the Press, a hard-hitting interview show every Sunday, or This Week with George Stephanopoulos, a personal favorite. For those of us into hardcore news we can search out Chris Matthews, Bill Moyers, or the columnists of major newspapers.
But even as I write this piece the local news station is spending about ten minutes of air time reporting on tonight's American Idol highlights, and covering a contestant who lives in Joplin. I've got nothing against American Idol. I watch it myself. But it is NOT news. It is a news station using its outlet to promote an entertainment program with big ratings.
The issues in our society are way too important to be subsumed by the culture of celebrity and the pursuit of ratings and profits. The breaking news fixation is urgently in need of repair.
Be sure to shoot plenty of video.