Why do we call it news?

The speed of news

I often wonder, in colonial times, how news traveled from Virginia to Boston or New York to Philadelphia.  How many days did it take to learn that events of political importance took place?

Over time with the advent of the telegraph, the telephone, radio, and TV, the railroad, automobile, and airplane, news can  travel in hours and minutes, not days.

Today, with the advent of the internet, cell phone cameras, and social networking, news can and does travel in seconds.

When news and life can change in an instant

I am an avid newspaper reader.  In fact, on weekends and vacations, I read old newspapers that I didn’t get to when they were freshly published.  These old newspapers are not as relevant as they were when first published, but there are still insights to be gained and information to be gleaned.  But I can tell you that there are times when the news is so startling, so shocking, and so irrevocably new and different, that one immediately recognizes that the world will never be the same.  Under these circumstances, all future events and news will be viewed through a totally different lens and and the old newspapers are rendered  worthless.  These papers, less than a day old,  were describing a world that operated under old and outdated  rules.

The tragic events of 9/11/2001 are the most vivid and visceral recent reminder of one such event.  The financial maelstrom of 2008, though it took longer to develop, is another such event.  Both personal and institutional finance will never be the same.

If it happens over and over again, is it still news?

Fast forward to 2012 and let’s try an experiment.  Have a friend of loved one give you a newspaper article of any of the major topics of the day.  And remove any references to the date.

Greece is about to default on its financial obligations to the European banks. Is this story from Jan 2010 or Jan 2011 or January 2012?

Hold the presses.  Greece has reached an agreement with its Euro zone partners.  What date would you give this article?

Suicide bombs or IED’s have taken dozens of lives in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Is this news event from before, during, or after the US involvement in these countries?  Is it from 2003 or 2012?  This is a period of almost 10 years.  And events of this type occur so frequently, that we see them on the internet, we read about them in the newspaper the next day.  Often, we don’t know if we are looking at two different events or the same one.

And lives are being sacrificed or eliminated in Libya (old news?) and Syria (new news?) in the name of democracy.  Once again, date these events.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, our elected representatives, supposedly acting on our behalf, routinely engage one another in what can best be described as a total lack of cooperation or civility.  Evidence of this governmental intransigence appears over and over again in the newspapers, media, and the internet.  I defy you to date any news article related to the political events (non-events) or actions (inaction)  in Washington DC.

Like a speeding train, news rushes past

This is not to say that the news of the day is unimportant.  There are intensely important events occurring and recurring all over the world.  Iranian nuclear ambitions, revolutions and self-government in the Arab world, United States financial growth, Euro Zone financial solvency and  Chinese economic growth and dominance to name a few.

Lurking somewhere in the numbing and repetitive nature of today’s news is the next world changing and life changing event.  The looming tragedy is that, even with today’s blazing speed of information, we are only equipped to learn about it faster.  We are not equipped to anticipate the event.  Nor, it seems, are we equipped to  prevent it from happening.

If and when the next 9/11 occurs, we will all say to one another, “Do you know what just happened?”

By then, it is no longer news.

About Howard Zien
Howard P. Zien is the president of Business Logic Incorporated. He has been in the consulting and software development field since the early 1970s. A graduate of Princeton University, Howard earned an MBA in accounting and finance from New York University's Stern School of Business.

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