A ticker tape with nothing new to say

Fiona Purnell
Fiona Purnell

By Fiona Purnell

What a different world we live in today than that which the late Nelson Mandela was born into 95 years ago.

It was sad news to hear that the former South African president had lost his fight with illness. He has done a lot for our world and helped make it what it is today.

He was a true inspiration, greatly loved by many, and one who will be remembered long into the future for what he did.

His death, in particular the news coverage of it though, has left me pondering one question.

While watching a programme on BBC2 last Thursday evening I became aware of a major event as a strapline appeared along the bottom of my screen stating ‘breaking news on BBC 1’.

It was around 9.50 p.m. and I’ll likely remember where I was (at home) and what I was doing (watching a documentary) at the time of hearing the news for many years to come.

Having seen the strip appear, I was of course curious as to what the breaking news was.

I thought it may have been to do with the storms that seemed to cause an awful lot of problems and the extra high tides they had been predicting.

However I was, of course, wrong.

In a world of 24/7 media coverage online and on the television and radio, it didn’t take long for me to discover what the news was - I didn’t turn the channel, but instead looked on the BBC website.

At that time there is no denying that Mandela’s death was ‘breaking news’.

It had just been announced and of course, justifiably, it was important for the information to be shared with members of the public across the globe.

It was news that was just breaking from the southern hemisphere.

The news channels continued to stream live updates and films about the man’s history and his anti-apartheid battle.

From 10.00 or 11.00 p.m. on Thursday night, fast forward to 7.00 a.m. on Friday morning.

Turning the news on as I wake up, there’s footage from South Africa showing people mourning, laying flowers and singing freedom songs outside Mandela’s house.

All legitimate news, yes.

However is the ‘breaking news’ strip scrolling across the scene telling us Mandela is dead still necessary?

Is something such as this which has seen so many hours of continuous broadcasting overnight still breaking news?

Surely as there was no update to the story it was not ‘breaking news’.

The news had ‘broken’ some nine hours or so before.

This is not something that is solely relevant to Mandela’s death, it’s just that this incident has made me think more about it in recent days.

The same thing can be said about news channels on any number of occasions.

Anytime there is something they consider to be ‘breaking news’, how long does it stay a breaking news story?

Some of you reading this may suggest that working in the newspaper business this is a question which I should be able to answer for myself, but I’m afraid I can’t.

If I was to try to answer it, I think given what I’ve seen on all the news channels, I’d disagree with my colleagues in that side of the business.

It seems they think that something counts as ‘breaking news’ until another news story comes along and knocks it off as number one headline.

In my view, if something’s breaking then it’s just happened and after a certain period it no longer needs the ‘breaking’ part and just becomes news.

Thinking back to 95 years ago though when Mandela was born, there wouldn’t have been the need for this article as there would have been no outlet for ‘breaking news’.

There was no instant news, no 24/7 reporting and no circle of news.

The world would just have found out about it a day later in the newspapers.