What is “breaking news” and why do we need it?
First of all to the “breaking” part: the old definition of it no longer applies. Once upon a time a deep-voiced announcer would cut into whatever we were listening to on the radio or watching on tv and, serious and concise, say his piece and then return us to our “regularly scheduled programming.” Now, information is immediately available on so many media that it breaks like the tide – rhythmic and regular and constant.
Then I wonder about the nature of the news. What do we need to know and what simply scratches an itch for dish? And does the regularization of gossip in our lives somehow curdle the milk of human kindness in us? Do we have to know about a famous singer’s drug overdose? Or the other one’s nervous breakdown? Or the private struggle of a family on opposite sides of an end-of-life decision, as their loved one lies in a coma?
After a gunman in a campus shooting uses up his ammunition and kills himself, and is identified as the lone gunman, and the dead and wounded are counted, the story is pretty much told. But that doesn’t stop it from folding and unfolding in the media depending on how slow the news days are. In one of those cases it went on for a whole week, obsessively, repetitively, continually, until there was nothing left to say, except to ask one of those questions we have all gasped at at one time or another, of a recently bereaved family member: “How did you feel when you realized your son/daughter/mother/father/wife/husband was dead?” At which point I decided that unless someone came back from the dead, the breaking news had broken, and I was moving on.
One week it is a shock jock with a nasty mouth. And then it is the breakup of a Hollywood couple (pick a pair, there’s a whole deck of them) and the oh-so-holy tsk-tsking about how hard it must be on their kids to have it played out in the public (said by the reporters who are making it public). How is this news? And what ever happened to mind your own business?
Sometimes the pretext for reporting this “news” is that it will open a useful debate about whatever subject that “news” item addresses regarding our human needs, or foibles, or errors, but in truth, it is too often an excuse for smug moralizing at the expense of whomever is in the spotlight at the moment. (I remember once when a public figure fought for his life due to a traffic accident, the media went on about whether or not he should pay a fine for not wearing a seat belt.)
More and more, what is reported in media seems to have less and less relevance to my life – to our lives? Can I include you? – and I have decided to follow a friend’s example and go on a “diet” from the news. The only thing she tunes into now is the House & Garden channel. She won’t even watch Project Runway!for fear the suspense will disturb her new calm.
I am tapering off. I read very little about politics, these days. I don’t really have to know the details of every insult politician A trades with politician B. I skip “news” features that are not new at all, but re-cycled advice of some kind, from celebrities who are usually half my age. Next, I have eliminated all “news” about someone else’s health. If it doesn’t concern my own private, personal sinuses (or the sinuses of my loved ones) I shall consider it a “don’t need to know” item, so when I see a reporter standing outside a hospital building to report the sickness of someone famous, I’ll bypass it. I am ready to move into phase two: No personal improvement “news” — the secrets of good and bad foods lie at the end of my tongue and the taste centers of my brain, and there they will stay, no matter what the latest government study reveals about carbs or wine or coffee. Ditto “news” on how to flex my muscle groups.
Moving into high gear, I will cold turkey all celebrity traffic stops, arrests, slip of the tongue mistakes and even humanitarian junkets.
If I do that without getting sucked back in by the red BREAKING NEWS banner, I estimate that I will have retrieved enough time in six months to write a book and sail around the world, and if I did the former while doing the latter…would it be newsworthy? Only to me.