Thursday, August 10, 2006

This just in...

Whenever I put on one of the all-news channels, I'm often reminded an incident that dates back to my college days.

There, the radio-TV students sometimes made fun of the speech patterns of one of the teachers. They used an episode from one of the classes for demostrative purposes. In order to make the fake newscast more dramatic, the student had inserted the words, "This just in..." Upon reviewing the newscast, the teacher said, "If the news isn't just in, you can't say that it's just in." He said it in a voice that was difficult not to imitate -- I'll bet the students still can do it 30 years later -- but hopefully they learned the lesson while they were having fun.

That brings us to the words "breaking news."

The three news channels use some form of that constantly, whether there is a degree of urgency or not. I know, the words are designed to make you stop and watch. Still, the overuse of the phrase deadens its effect.

When an important story really does take place, like the arrests of those in a terrorist plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights, it doesn't have the impact at first glance that it should. If everything is important, nothing is important. And when the phrase is used for a story hours old, it becomes easy to be cynical about that particular news operation.

By far the worst offender in this department, though, is Nancy Grace's show on CNN Headline News. Whenever I turn that program on at night, this is a "breaking news" graphic. Every night. Along with it comes text along the lines of "exclusive interview concerning kidnapping from three months ago in which there's nothing new but we got a family member to come on live." Well, almost.

All-news stations are big monsters that need feeding, day in and day out. They really do have to make national stories out of Scott and Laci Peterson's saga at times. But the words "breaking news" imply that something is happening now and it's important. When it's neither, credibility is shredded. That's not a good thing for a news department.

No comments: