Monday, November 15, 2010

The Alterity of Breaking News

How to become an instinctive thinker covering breaking news when you're mobile
In the term "breaking news"it would not be anomalous to imagine a giant surf set breaking - rolling out a life of its own.

The UK Press Gazette recently reported a group of surfers uncovering a 50ft wave in England, yet refusing to give its exact location. This contested spirit is much the same for the news surfers seeking to break news.

Yet, somehow in our meta data-mined digiworld, breaking news is becoming an irrelevance - at least in the way TV once had the monopoly and practiced its wares.

Not any more - anyone now can break news.

CNN, London, I'm told by a lecturer-colleague no longer invests in the act of "breaking news" being its raison detre.

Breaking News Broken
Baudrillard, the late contemporary philosopher might have proclaimed the media's incestuous naval gazing has now seen some sense.

He might add what TV inevitably saw as a form of electronic corporeal voyeurism, the need to get to the scene and flaunt oneself first whilst attempting to ride the wave exclusively is diminishing. Merci Dieu.

Today as part of a Masters lecture over a couple of hours trainee journalists sought to deconstruct this modernistic news parlance.

In 1963 the term would evince a chilling turn,  but in the hands of the television supremo Cronkite the most gut-wrenching of news is delivered in a matter-of-fact, unflappered manner.

Contrast this with the many excitable presentations of today, some crassly riddled with bon mots.

Breaking News in the Lecture Room
The lecture room does not do its justice.

Breaking News is truly realised under the intense gaze of the controlled frenzy of the newsroom, where old friendships can be lost in seconds, and where everyone is calling for order in disorder.

Here then is what we devised. A collaborative meme, which I have since added to and hopefully our MAs can modify as well. That I published it gives us all a moment to evaluate its purpose: the lecture gave it much more context.

But when the news doth break, what is one to do? When you're working for an outfit with limited resources how do rise above your station? Also when you break and its an exclusive, how do you manage, control, stay with the story?

Today app-determinism e.g twitter answers some of those questions. But it needs to be buttressed with the old and new . Those old fashion acts include the relentless act of "phone-bashing."

Remember time is the premium commodity. Every second gone, reduces your real-time prowess in driving the story. Like a trader, one minute the stocks up; the next it's down and now you failed to bring it in.

So instinct is crucial. Instinct however is practice learnt.

That means arriving at the point where when the big story happens you get all the elements in a Madhatter row and publish with all the prudence it deserves.

The hacks hacka
ABC Associate Producer David Dunkley Gyimah in the midst of a breaking news story in Johannesburg

David reporting live on the BBC World Service wrapping up Breaking News of the above bomb blast

To the hack in anyone, the breaking news story is or was the supreme Adrenalin rush. My first at a live station, BBC Radio Leicester was in 1991 - the assassination of Rajiv Ghandi.

When the news broke, I was shifting on the Asian network about to go home for the day, with only four other members of staff around to subsequently run a rolling news programme.

I'd had four previous years of radio to give me the confidence of what to do.

Today, within Breaking News the pubic demand more: participatory, explanatory, localisation - features explained in news' generic terms in Stuart Allan's News Culture,  but apply to the breaking format.

Being on air recounting information you reeled of seconds ago only wears the news down - a symptom of 24 hours news. We watch perhaps because of our insatiable appetite and curiosity, goaded by the announcer.."More news soon, meanwhile let's go to our correspondent". 

This, and how we now address breaking news in the digi-age  is food for this generation, compounded by a myriad of ethical and professional concerns.

Breaking News? More like Constructive for the post-TV age.

How to become an instinctive thinker covering breaking news

1. top zone is white heat hot - an abstraction from Mcluhan. The news is breaking fast
2. The lower zone - the temperature is more tempered. The news gets cycled into the lower zone for the creation of the news feature, whilst attention is still given to the top zone

  • The blue zones are web-enabled activities towards coverage of breaking news
  • The grey circles are customary traditional news practices
  • The reds are routes that may often not yield swift responses
  • The black will be hard pressed for an immediate response
The one we did not discuss in detail that we'll look at next week will be your reputation. In the event that a news story breaks and you're competing with others, how do you ensure a response from a potential participatory body may depend on the presentation of your reputation.

David Dunkley Gyimah, a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, and PhD Candidate at SMARTlab University College Dublin is a member of Microbes Mind - a gathering set up by Nasa researcher Zann Gill, which provides provocative questions and answers to scenarios.

Post Script.
Spare a through for a Masters student who knew about the Royal Wedding announcement before its official announcement, but did not break the story for all sorts of ethical reasons, not least though if you break the story, how do you go about managing it.