Is ‘breaking news’ really ‘breaking’ or is it just ‘broken’


CHARLOTTE, NC, August 1, 2014 – War is a nasty business. Innocent people die. That’s why they call it war.

Is it any wonder then that a cease-fire in the Hamas/Israel war would last less than two hours?

More surprising is that the media actually interrupts programming with the so-called “breaking news” that a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire between the combatants has been agreed upon.

Such “breaking news” announcements used to alert viewers that something important was happening and that we should sit up and take notice. Now “breaking news” happens hourly.

The true news would have been if the 72-cease-fire had been brokered and actually lasted for the full three days.

Media is in a tough spot. They report events as they happen, often in real time. Sometimes things break so quickly that journalists get it wrong. On other occasions the race to be first means that non-stories often make headlines filled with inaccuracies. Even worse is when veteran reporters are forced to ask what sounds like ridiculous questions in order to get the interviewee to respond in their own words.

The result it a muddle of confusion which, in the end, does viewers no justice when trying to get to the truth.

Broadcast media does a disservice by flashing up a “breaking news” graphic following every commercial break. Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle we are constantly bombarded by live high speed police chases, especially in California. We also receive graphic details of every shooting incident anywhere and everywhere in the country.

Most of those chases are irrelevant to anything or any news value. As for the shootings, perhaps it would be better to hold off on the spontaneous reporting for a until there were some actual facts to report and information to pass along.

Television news has become a product of “the little boy who cried wolf” syndrome.

National Public Radio ran a story recently about President Obama taking his agenda directly to the American people. The story focused upon Obama’s “serendipitous” appearance in a small restaurant in mainstream America where he chatted with the “folks” to hear what they were thinking.

So detailed was the report was that we even heard that the president dined on an order of ribs and had a beer to wash them down.

That story, like so many others these days, was reported as “news.” C’mon. Do we really believe the president of the United States just showed up in a mom and pops diner and casually sat down with his peeps? Do we honestly believe those “ordinary Americans” weren’t given background checks and planted for a photo-op?

NPR is better than that. Furthermore, they were willing accomplices because they were among the camera crews, reporters, secret service and other official members of the entourage who just happened to be in the background.

Despite the multitude of resources available to us in this instantaneous social media age, we may actually be going backwards in our ability to separate truth from fiction.

Years ago I met a Russian woman in GUM, the vast department store on Red Square that faces the Kremlin. I was standing in line to get a better understanding of the ordeal Russians were forced to endure while they were shopping.

I began talking with Olga. Her English was not good, but it was light-years better than my Russian. In the end, I learned that she wanted to buy a radio.

Ultimately we arranged to meet the next day so that I could assist her with her purchase in exchange for a visit to her apartment on the outskirts of Moscow.

Olga lived with her husband on the sixth floor of an ugly rundown high rise apartment building. It was a major concession on her part to let an American visit, so we were very careful to be as covert as possible.

Over the course of the next three hours, Olga, her husband Rosslin and Rosslin’s younger sister Tanya shared stories about Russia and asked about the United States.

Rosslin spoke no English, but Tanya was fluent, so she became the interpreter.

As we drank vodka and asked each other questions Tanya said something I thought was profound. “We know that our government lies to us,” she told me. “What we don’t know is what is true and what is not. We rarely meet Western people face to face. So mostly we get information second, third and fourth hand and then we must decide what is true from all of that.”

With the technology of the internet and social media, many of the barriers that Tanya, Olga and Rosslin dealt with no longer exist, but in its day, the iteration of global communications that existed at that time was, in part at least, responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Then again, there are new hurdles to overcome that are reaching us daily in the form of “breaking news.” The question is, “Is the news really “breaking?’”

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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