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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

entry arrow1:39 PM | Headline News Blooper

I get why this happens. It has happened before. What most people don't get is that, unlike TV or radio or the Internet where breaking news can happen, newspapers are physical objects in need of systematic circulation that need specific deadlines to run -- and if you are a national newspaper, that's a lot of circulation to consider.

If a story is imminent, newspapers make a template of what could possibly happen, run with it, and hope for the best. (Major newspapers, for example, have an active obituary staff who write every important persons' obituaries, with constant updates, long before these people are dead. So that when death does come, the writers just fill in the blanks regarding the specifics -- and voila, instant publication only minutes after the announcement.) It is all done in the name of scoop and/or timeliness.

This is not a story of bad journalism. This is a story of how one medium of news may no longer be suitable for the times we are living in. Most of the time, editorial hunches for imminent news stories are correct -- but sometimes it does spell disaster, like the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline of Chicago Tribune in 1948. Shouting "Stop the press!" happens only in movies. (But I do wish these newspapers have the prescience of that newspaper in the film Chicago. In that scene near the end, the newsboys await the verdict for Roxie Hart's murder charge, with two headlines ready for the selling: "Guilty!" says one version, "Innocent!" says another. They get the proper go-signal from the courthouse -- and one version of the newspaper vanishes instantly into the truck. But this happens only in movies.

To quote the great Alain de Botton in The News: A User's Manual: "... The stories we take in were decided not by supernatural decree after a conclave of angels but by a group of usually rather weary and pressured editors struggling to assemble a plausible list of items in harried meetings in corner offices over muffins and coffee. Their headlines don't constitute an ultimate account of reality so much as some first hunches as to what might matter by mortals prey to the same prejudices, errors and frailties as the rest of us, hunches plucked out of a pool of several billion potential events that daily befall our species."

Which makes me think: in the age of instant gratification, news do run better now in social media (where errors are necessarily less forgivable), especially if you need your news like you need your instant coffee. Newspapers may not be dead yet (and I hope they don't die off like the dinosaurs), but as a medium of news in the age of breaking news via Twitter, it is truly showing its creaky joints.

Photo from Coconuts Manila

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[2] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich