In 2014, CNN reported the story of a missing airplane, which was known as MH370. During the first few minutes of the report, they informed the audience of the plane's itinerary, last known location, and current status. It was a concise and accurate assessment. However, then they realized they still had 23hours and 50 minutes of airtime to fill. CNN then introduced panels discussing conspiracy theories, graphics telling people what a plane looks like. Anchors brought in toy planes and used holographic planes to discuss the case of MH370. A news story worthy of a few minutes of reporting was bloated up to cover hours of reporting.
While examples such as this overblown coverage of a plane missing can remain mostly benign and seldom pass the barrier of hilarity, coverage of other news media can have a much larger impact on the audience as compared to this one. News channels as we know them are a rather new phenomenon, the oldest one dating back 40 years to 1980, when CNN the first 24 hour news channel was started. Prior to this News was a segment of a particular time, Delivering the days happenings in a concise form. Today, 24 hours news channels have changed the way that news is fundamentally understood. Earlier news content dictated how much time a news programming would last, making news the primary factor. However, as networks turned into massive 24 hour news cycles, it became more important to fill each slot with some content, whether it may be newsworthy is a second priority.
Modern news channels have brought many problems with them, they range from the endless cycle of repeating news to hammer the audience with the same information over and over again, to debate segments which take an hour to establish nothing. All these forms bring their own problems, however for this piece we will be focussing on one aspect of the news which is vital to keep the audience watching the news; scaring the audience.
News corporations realised very early on that to maintain relevance, the audience has to be motivated to keep watching the news. This leads to the question, why is news important? Because it helps you stay informed. Why is it important to stay informed? This is where the genius of the news media of today is revealed. It is important to stay informed because that is the only way to keep yourself safe from threats, threats which the news is happy to tell you are out to get you and your loved ones. Just to be clear, All news channels are not afraid of mongering cash grabs, but a major chunk of what has led to this format of news is. News channels will be quick to tell their audience whatever that week's villain is doing and keep them updated.
News channels and organisations do important work, providing a check to many government institutions and functioning as the fourth pillar of democracy. However, that is not a job which needs a 24 hour stream of information flowing. No other branch of democracy even attempts to give out a 24 hour stream of information, so why this one?
News is of utmost importance, but instead of hammering it in, pointless debates and pointless content making the cut to fill in time, maybe it is time to change the way news functions and to decide the time according to that day's news, not letting the time decide the news.