Seares: ‘News gods must be crazy’: story overload on one day

WHAT happened when at least seven major news stories erupted on one day in Washington D.C., seat of of the most powerful government in the world?

Scale down the glut of big stories in the U.S. capital last March 1 and imagine in Cebu, all on one day:

■ the the governor fires his chief of staff and administrator over a scandal;

■ the mayor announces he won’t run in 2019 for health reasons;

■ a riot erupts at the city jail over shabu trade and three guards die;

■ a section of the first Mactan bridge collapses, crippling traffic to and from the mainland;

■ a congressman resigns, conscience-stricken by Congress failure to implement the ombudsman order to dismiss him;

■ House Speaker Alvarez withdraws his quickie-divorce bill because, he says, he saw an apparition of Virgin Mary.

And so forth, you get the drift. The biggies come crashing one after the other into the newsroom within the same news period.

Chaotic Thursday

The super-sized stories about U.S. President Trump and the White House--involving himself, his son-in-law, his most trusted adviser, his former chief of staff and the special counsel probe on Russia and American elections--broke out on the same news day.

It was like, media watchers noted, stuffing a week’s worth of clothes in an overnight bag.

For news editors who assess and rank stories and pick space and display for each and for news anchors who must choose the lead story, it was too much in one setting.

Think of the same problem in smaller newsrooms with fewer journalists and less sophisticated equipment.

Excessive or lean

One oddity in the news business is that having too many big stories at deadline is just as challenging as not having a story big enough for the top headline. Dealing with bumper crop may just be as tough as coping with a lean harvest.

In the first instance, the daunting task is not just selecting the most significant story, it’s also telling the reader the sense of the day’s issues and events and how they affect the reader. That kind of work requires getting a consensus among editors on how to manage the deluge.

In the second situation, the more prudent practice in many newsrooms is to prepare on what could be the top story if nothing else would happen the rest of the period. They could discard it for something bigger that would break later. Otherwise, the pre-packaged story would still look substantial.

Demand on work force

The strain on editors’ decision-making also flows over to the business of tapping reporters for which stories.

A handicap on beat coverage is that some reporters acquire territorial instinct over their respective beats: not wishing to miss a story within their zone, they hate being pulled out to cover a bigger non-beat story or, worse, not helping another reporter for additional data available within their zone.

That hurts team effort and complicates the work of editors deluged with a ton of big stories in the same news shift.

‘Kill your darlings’

With multi-tasking by most news outlets now, it’s interesting to see how editors and reporters tackle an overload of stories.

An old yet still useful advice for writers on handling excess materials is “to kill your darlings” or “murder your babies.” Delete, remove words, phrases, or facts not essential to the story even though they may be your favorite. For editors, that means shelving or dumping stories they would love to run on lean news days.

• • •

Press freedom not impaired if not all media are banned?

THE Duterte administration argues that the ban on the reporter and CEO of Rappler, the digital news site, from Malacañang events doesn’t infringe a free press because it’s not being stopped from publishing and other “critical” news outlets continue to cover and publish news about the Palace.

With this kind of thinking is the pitch that media cannot be repressed because of its many platforms. Gag one or two, many others are still writing truth to power. Stop Rappler, “and it’s not even stopped yet,” you still have Inquirer and others doing their thing.

But this may be asked to uncover the flaw:

How far could a government go before its act qualifies as repression? How many news outlets have to be shut down, how many more journalists must be shut out before the press can complain?
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