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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Local Cat Rescued!

Quality in news reporting . . . Not!

Published: Monday, February 5, 2007 - 22:00

Have you noticed that the airwaves no longer carry informative, unadulterated news anymore? “Breaking News” has become the standard, thus all news is presented in an excited, almost breathless, tone. We at home now question the urgency of any segment, particularly when we discover that a cat previously reported as being lodged in a sewer drain has now been rescued. How would we sleep at night not knowing if this miracle had taken place?In a recent 10-minute span on our local TV stations there were three “breaking news” stories. One actually had to do with a cat that had become lodged in a sewer drain and then rescued through the diligence of firefighters. Oh, the joy when Tabby was pulled to safety!

Another breaking news segment informed us that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s plane had just overshot the runway, but there were no injuries, nor did the 300 unnamed passengers on board realize what had transpired. Had Blair not been on board, we’d never have known that a plane had slipped a few feet off the tarmac.

A football game I watched recently was interrupted by a “special bulletin” so that we could be informed that a former U.S. President was to undergo hip replacement surgery. No additional information on the operation was offered, but I wasn’t pleased to miss a 78-yard touchdown run so I could learn that the procedure wouldn’t be life-threatening.

If these incidents are breaking news, how would the networks handle the landing of space aliens, or clear photographs of the Loch Ness monster, or even Sasquatch (Bigfoot) shopping at a local mall? Because we’ve become conditioned to viewing mundane stories as breaking news, the networks would have to invent a new gimmick to attract our attention.

How about “End of the World News” or “If You Miss the Next Segment, You’ll Wake Up With Boils on Your Butt.” That might get our attention. So far, breaking news is unlikely to either stir our curiosity or make us alter our schedule.

Let’s not forget the excitement in the voices of the local weathercasters when after reviewing their Doppler 10,000, they run the “Storm Watch Alert” crawl on our screens or interrupt “The Hoagy Carmichael Hour” on the radio to announce that, without the slightest accumulation of snow outside, most of the schools in our community have already announced their closing for the next day. Then we are mesmerized for the next five minutes, as we hear Barney from the local hardware store tell us how many snow blowers and shovels are in stock.

Those of us who were brought up watching “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” or Walter Cronkite remember when news was straightforward, meaningful and reported without smiles, inside jokes, asides, innuendo, sarcasm and commentary. I can’t imagine Huntley interrupting Brinkley to inform us that a broccoli recall has just been announced although the infected produce was shipped two months ago and no illnesses have been reported. Maybe all this trivial news was prevalent then, and now with advanced communication and 24-hour news programs we are just more aware of it.

Some of you will remember going to the movies back in the 1950s and 1960s, when each new movie preview featured explosive and mind-numbing introductions. “See Godzilla Conquer the World!” Or “An Experience So Compelling and So Frightening, No One Will Be Admitted During the Last Fifteen Minutes of This Movie.” I thought I was back in the 1950s the other night when at 5:35 p.m. my local station heralded this teaser—“Outdated, spoiled beef inadvertently shipped to some local grocery stores. Details at 11:00.” They might as well have told us that Godzilla was rampaging somewhere in Michigan and we could learn the exact location only with our decoder rings.

How does one define quality in news reporting? It’s that old Supreme Court comment about pornography—“I know it when I see it.” I would like to see news reported instead of created. Breaking news should cover school closings, gas leaks and other issues involving public safety. They should not be trivialized.

Oh, wait a minute. “Breaking News” just flashed on my screen. It seems Time Magazine just named me Person of the Year! That’s news, even though everyone in the United States shares that distinction. In any event, I’d better update my resume to include that recognition. Maybe I’ll be on the 11 o’clock news, right after the “Breaking News” story of the deer that was seen wandering through the woods with a plastic Halloween pumpkin on its head. Oh, the intrigue!

Editor’s note: Bill and Mary Kalmar celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary on January 25. That’s breaking news.

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About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semi-retired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.