Turmoil abroad: Old news shouldn’t necessarily mean no news

by | Feb 14, 2014 | Opinion

Kait Morris

Kait Morris

Kait Morris
Biz/Tech Editor

It feels like only weeks ago that we were seeing photos of mangled bodies, starving children and burning buildings on the news. These types of images are shocking and affecting. They make both an impression and a statement. They are, in a way, articles on their own; the words write themselves.

In the last three years, the crisis in Syria has grabbed headlines and been the subject of many news pieces and op-eds.

In April 2013, evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Syria took the international community by storm. By December, a United Nations report confirmed that chemical weapons had been employed in the conflict. More recently, a ceasefire agreement was violated and evacuees were harmed. And the misappropriation of international aid has also made news.

Similarly, violence and upheaval in Ukraine took centre stage after President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned an agreement that would have strengthened ties with the European Union, instead opting to strengthen ties with Russia. There were photos, videos and live streams of barricades on fire, police assaulting protesters and protesters assaulting police. Demonstrations broke out in support in cities all over the world, including several Canadian cities, like Toronto.

Despite the magnitude of these crises, however, recent events like the Olympics seem to have pushed them out of the headlines.

True, there are only so many resources that any media agency can dedicate to any one story. When crises persist over 1,080 days, as the one in Syria has, day-to-day coverage becomes a nearly an impossibility for any but the largest news agencies.

Because of both costs and commercial considedrations, news is prioritized. It also needs to be new. Old news is, seemingly by definition, not news at all.

Peace talks in Syria are, in a fashion, old news. The coverage is still there, but where on the page will it appear? Will it be front page news? Will it be in today’s select feature articles? It depends on a number of factors; including whatever the target audience will most want to see and the nature of the spectacle.

Reporting is a business. The information dispersed by the media is for an audience. That information is often prioritized based on that audience.

I doubt that eTalk, a celebrity and gossip news show, is going to focus on the release of Canada’s 2014 federal budget, but I am equally sure that the Financial Post must run a piece on it.

While the daily struggle of people living in violence can make for heady feature articles and fascinating op-eds, unless there is something to advance the story, or show a glimpse into or a new side of the conflict, it will unfortunately not be enough to bump something as nationally important as Olympic coverage. Or even the local Rob Ford watch.

Timeliness, local interest, violence and proximity are only some of the factors considered when prioritizing news. Oftentimes reporting on the nth day of the siege of Homs may not make for particularly sexy news, until dramatic footage and a hook materialize. At least, not when you have shiny new footage of Justin Bieber turning himself into a police station or the latest in a series of a string of blunders from Canada’s most entertaining mayor.

I wish it were otherwise, that  international humanitarian crises like the disaster in Syria and the turmoil in Ukraine would be given the kind of coverage they deserve and do not receive.