The age of 24-hour news filler


News used to be delivered in the form of daily newspapers. First with cable television and increasingly so with the Internet, coverage has become nonstop. 24-hour news channels are constantly on the air. Ironically, as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, authors of “Warp Speed,” comment, news is delivered less completely as a result of 24-hour coverage because stories are now often presented in little pieces interspersed with speculation.

The concept of newsgathering is becoming distorted. What once valued significance and thoroughness becomes a waiting game with superficial filler. This is heightened by the desire to be broadcast live. Reporters may stand around waiting for breaking news to occur.  As Richard Sambrook and Sean McGuire at noted, “when a presenter feels compelled to say, ‘Plenty more to come … none of it news … but that won’t stop us,’” while waiting for the royal birth in 2013, “then there really is a problem.”

This deterioration is further driven by the desire to be first. The Internet enables videos and other forms of communication to be transmitted instantly. It is a race between channels to be the first to air breaking news. This has ethical implications since speed often correlates with inaccuracy. The traditional function of journalism, which is to share true, reliable accounts, is sometimes replaced by journalism in which the information is published before being verified.

Not all inaccuracies can be easily erased. Such was a case with the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The media repeatedly misreported information in the rush to share new discoveries. In addition to erroneously reporting 12 dead, The New York Post linked Salah Barhoun to the attack. The innocent 17-year-old was featured front page as one of two “bag men,” suggesting that he was a suspect in the bombing. You can imagine the toll this false accusation took on his reputation, which may follow him throughout his life.