Stories that take longer than a day to unfold are told as a series of climaxes. Says one editor: “Acid rain, hazardous waste... they’re the kind of big bureaucratic stories that make people’s eyes glaze over. There’s no clear solution, no clear impact. They’re not sexy.”
The news media are poor at dealing with slow-moving changes and “indeterminate or fluid situations.” The news “is characteristically about events rather than processes, and effects rather than causes.” As a result environmental reporting tends to concentrate on events such as the Earth Summit or various Earth Days, accidents, and disasters such as oil tanker spills, and official announcements.
Media outlets stress immediate events and do not back track on past events because they want their audiences to tune in or buy their newspapers every day. They want to give the impression that they will miss out on something if they don’t. “The focus on what just happened, the emphasis on getting scoops and beating the opposition to a story that everyone would have reported anyway in a day, says that knowing what just happened is the crucial thing.”
This means journalists have to work to very tight deadlines and don’t have the time to investigate properly and consult a wide range of sources. Each story competes for priority and an emphasis on ‘breaking news’ does not encourage any coverage of long-term issues.
Simon Hoggart, writing in New Statesman & Society, observed that the tendency of some US newspapers and tabloid TV shows to offer “‘News McNuggets’, events chopped up, stuffed with artificial flavouring, and served in bite-sized portions” is headed to Britain where “news is becoming increasingly a ready-processed product designed to make no call on understanding or imagination.” Hoggart described the tendency to turn all news into a human interest story, and if it is not amenable to that not to cover it. This involves picturing victims and heroes and not bothering with the social analysis and historical background.