Is that really Breaking News ?

April 14th, 2016 Sections: Maths-Stats, News, Society
Extra! Extra!! - Stop the Presses, Breaking News!!!

Extra! Extra!! – Stop the Presses, Breaking News!!!

One of the interesting aspects of modern life that has been amplified by the appearance of the telegraph, telephone, camcorder, mobile phones, the internet and wifi access, is the nature of the news that we receive.

There is now a tendency to see on Television and the internet Breaking News stories … featuring the latest developments … giving the viewer, (or surfer), the feeling that they being kept abreast of important events and have up-to-date information on how the story is unfolding … feeding the public’s insatiable appetite for detail.

There are times when this is indeed a public service … and I admit that I often find it compelling viewing (surfing) … but I always try to keep in mind that the constant stream of information is simply that … and that it needs to be treated with caution.  It should not be taken as ‘gospel’ … accepted simply because it has been reported … because it arrives in our ‘in tray’ as raw data without having been properly scrutinized … and so there is an even greater need for the information to be checked and verified, assessed and put into context than might be the case if it was presented in a different format.

I suppose it depends how far back in History you want to go, but at one time, it may have taken days (or longer) for a news story to ‘break’.  Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can see it unfolding before our very eyes, on television or by courtesy of the internet.

Sometimes I attend meetings and there are a host of people sitting around the room – the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press. They used to sit with a notebook in one hand and a pen in the other, frantically scribbling down notes as the meeting proceeded.  As the meeting wound up to a conclusion, these reporters may either have hung around, trying to ‘grab an interview’ with someone in order to clarify some point or other – or to try and get a memorable quote … but as often as not, they would rush for the door, heading back to the office to type up their copy.

With the advent of the Dictaphone, they would start the meeting by putting theirs on the table, so that they could fix what had being said … so they didn’t have to rely on their memories … and rushed jotting that might, or might not, have been misunderstood, misinterpreted … or, possibly, something they had imagined that they had heard.  At the end of the meeting they would rush forward to grab their recorder before trying to corner someone for an interview … or rushing for the door.

Nowadays, however, although they sit in exactly the same spot as they used to … these reporters now have a laptop resting precariously on their knees, as their fingers glide across the keyboard, recording their notes in electronic format rather than on paper.  The difference between then and now, is that they no longer have to rush back to the office to type up the story … at the press of a key it can be sent over the ether and even posted directly onto a news website.

One of the problems with this is that the news websites may present a series of articles from one Press Conference … each highlighting an individual item … instead of a single report which combines them.  As a result, each one is given equal importance and

The other day, for example, there was a press conference given by the State National Statistics Committee, and one of the country’s main news agencies issued three short items as it progressed:

At 14:27: Almost every sixth marriage breaks up in Kyrgyzstan.

The report cam with a ‘soundbyte’ quotation about how “marriage and divorce are important factors in the formation and development of the family structure of the population”.

Having announced that, the article went on to inform us that this “is a lot compared to other countries” – although no specific examples were given to support this.

According to the UN’s Demographics and Social Statistics Division the Divorce to Marriage ratio for Kyrgyzstan in 2013, (which gives the number of divorces to the number of marriages in a given year) was 16% … which is about 1 in 6 as in the headline … but that put Kyrgyzstan in 78th place in the country’s reporting their statistics(!)

On a different scale, ‘the crude divorce rate’, (which states how many divorces take place per 1000 people in the population), according to the UN’s World Demographic report, the situation in Kyrgyzstan back in 2013 there were about 1.6 divorces per 1000 people in the population , (which put the country in 51st place out of the 71 countries for which the data was available).

The report went on to report that the divorce rate was about three times higher in urban areas than in rural ones … and that, each year, there were between five and nine thousand children in families wherethe parents were granted a divorce.

At 15:11: Celibacy in the Kyrgyz Republic is not common – 1.2% of men never married

The headline highlighted ‘celibacy’ – which was apparently defined as people who never marry but choose to remain single – and was justified by quoting the statistics that of those over the age of 50, only 1.2% of the men, and 1.5% of women, have never been married. Apparently, these figures is growing.

The article went on to report that:

♦ about 4% of the population are in an ‘informal marriage’, that is ‘living together’ and not having gone through a formal registration, and
♦ 15% of women between the ages of 15 and 19, (that is about one in seven), was either married, or in an informal marriage.

At 15:39: In Kyrgyzstan, about a quarter of children are born out of wedlock.

About a quarter of children born were to mothers who are in ‘informal marriages’ – that is not in a registered marriage …

… which, although it was about birth rates, seemed to me an interesting point that could also have been added to the previous report,

and that ‘illegitimate’ children are born to women under the age of 30 …

… although the word illegitimate was not defined, it presumably included those born to couples in an ‘informal marriage’ … as it was followed by a ‘soundbite’ quote: “It is gratifying that the absence of an official registration of marriage is not an obstacle to the registration of the child”.

The report closed with a comment about fertility rates … noting a decline in fertility among women 15-20 years old, and an increase among women in the 15-17 age range – with 4.4 children per 1000 in 2006 to 7 in 2015.

This was fascinating and struck me as worthy of further research and comment … but, because of the way the reports were filed, was basically a missed opportunity.

Another news agency, on the other hand, was a little more abstemious in that it published just one report – (but they published it in both Russian and English) – which appeared to have been written in the old style … back in the office after ‘the dust had settled’:

At 16:08 the Russian version was published, followed at 16:10 by the English one: Almost every seventh women in Kyrgyzstan aged 15-19- married:

This also reported the headlines about one in six marriages ending in divorce; the increasing fertility rate among women in the 15-17 age range; that, in Kyrgyzstan, almost one in seven women aged between 15 and 19 were married, or in an ‘informal marriage’, ( … but it gave the statistic as just 13.9% – not 15% …); and there was another difference in the number of children reported as being born out of wedlock – a third as opposed to a quarter.

In addition they managed to add some additional information, that:

♦ in the fifteen years from 2000 to 2015, the number of marriages in Kyrgyzstan has increased, more than doubling, whilst the number of divorces had increased by a factor of just 1.6 times.
♦  in 2015, the most marriages were registered in the Southern oblasts of Batken and Osh;
♦ there are cases of polygamy: with just under one percent of women aged between 15 and 49 in a polygamous marriage.

Although I preferred this report, to be honest, this report still showed signs that it could have benefitted from a little more thought, research and analysis; exploring some of the themes raised in the press conference and going into more detail.

All in all, it looked like a fascinating Press Conference … with plenty of material that deserved attention and anslysis … but not, it seems to, something that benefited from being given the ‘breaking news’ treatment.



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