What is and isn’t news? This is the grey-coloured question that pecks at the journalism profession every day.
Something those of us in media get very used to is being accused of concentrating on “fluff” and “ignoring the real issues”. What the accusor fails to realize is that their definition of a “real issue” is their bias. It doesn’t make it any more real than anyone else’s definition and that drives them crazy. It’s an opinion. And it’s usually not the opinion of the person who’s making the decisions about which particular stories will be used to build the day’s newscasts.
There are legendary stories of newscasters quitting their jobs on the spot because of their assignments or the order to read a story they felt was so off the mark it was personally embarrassing. I recall the tale of a reporter who walked away when he was assigned to go to a garden centre and talk to customers who were buying plants and taking advantage of what appeared to be an early spring. A newscaster overseas stormed off the set because she was so sick of reading the same stories over and over, claiming that nothing was going on anyway so they shouldn’t have even bothered to do a newscast. Critics always come out when impending severe weather becomes a lead story and they claim the weather is not real news.
That is, of course, ridiculous. We are all affected by the weather and when it turns severe or changes drastically, you’re going to want to know.
So what is news? News is what is happening, has happened or is about to happen in your world. It’s about what is going to be relevant to the most people in your audience. Frankly, newscasters of old sometimes got it wrong by boring the audience with long and complicated stories by whose end nothing had really changed. Contrary to some beliefs, broadcasting is not a teaching tool. It’s informative and entertaining and if it’s not entertaining you won’t listen. And if you are in your morning routine of lining up for your cup of coffee and it’s suddenly taking twice as long, you’re going to want to know why. That delay has a real impact on your day. So we tell you: Tim Hortons now accepts debit.
There are several things to consider when debating the value of covering a story and the Hortons debit decision hits them directly. Research has shown that people are most interested in topics that affect these things: time – because there’s never enough of it. Family – for obvious reasons. Health, money and career also make the list. Accepting debit and the slower transactions that may result has the potential to impact every one of those areas of a person’s life. The popularity of the coffee chain is indisputable. It’s a story that hits people in a very real way. And it doesn’t mean you won’t hear about major decisions out of parliament or anything else of importance that’s going on.
There’s an ad in Chatelaine Magazine that brilliantly illustrates the wide range of concerns that people – in this case women – have. And it says something to the effect that just because you want to look pretty doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens in the world. They are not mutually exclusive concerns. I immediately dismiss anyone who uses the term “real news” because they reveal themselves to be either a) a dinosaur who is clinging to an outdated belief based on their own bias or b) someone who has never done the job. They should walk a mile in my high heels before throwing stones!