In everyday communal language news is referred to as information gathered from North, East, West and South. The word "news" developed in the 14th century was used as a plural form. Evidently, news contains information, throughout the world referring to either the present or the past occurrences that appeal to people. In other words, any unusual and unexpected occurrence that interests man becomes news. If someone were to say "A snake bites a man" it will not make much of a news item. However, if a man dies of snakebite, it becomes news.
News can be significant, momentous, humourous, tragic or serious depending on any situation from politics to commercial viewpoints, gossip or any kind of human account to share with others. News can expose the truth as well as act as a ruinous tool when twisted and fabricated – whether it is about a person, association or even a government. It can vary from culture to culture, unfolding facts and conflicts involving prominent personalities, government ministers or on bribery and corruption, as much as anything that can affect health and human life or an event that has already affected society. The latest news concentrated on Meethotamulla garbage mountain for years on end, and finally its collapse killing, injuring and displacing so many innocent people, will stand out as a typical example of news exposing the level of danger and health hazards to the public.
In the 17th century town criers took the responsibility of disseminating news with the help of a trumpet. During kingdoms in Asia, a drummer did it. With the advent of the printing press, news took the form of bulletins and written documents. During the Ottoman Empire, holy men and secular criers at mosques and market places circulated official messages and commands purely to warn people on the type of penalties for disobedience.
The emergence of the printing press and newspapers originated from China in the 1500s spread towards Europe and managed to bring about an enhancement in the transmission of news. It confronted a swing from realistic and complete economic reporting to a more sensitive and controversial and unrestricted format.
In 1922 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) commenced transmitting radio news from London through the British news agencies by hiring broadcasters who spoke with an upper-class accent. By 1960 radio succeeding as the primary source of news and television was run by the same networks in the UK and US, which later developed into CNN in 1980 and BBC in 1991 introducing the World Service Television. In 1996 Al Jazeera channel emerged as a powerful alternative to the Western media.
Today, dissemination of news has become a 24/7 operation via radio, television, mobile phones and the Internet instantaneously surpassing the time factor. News, in other words, has become one of the most interesting aspects of human life, whether by reading newspapers or listening to the radio and watching television. Broadcasting of news in Sri Lanka was once controlled by the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, but with the expansion of TV and radio channels, it has become by far the most popular TV or radio programme currently. Therefore, dissemination of news should be in a manner that will be receptive to the listener.
Anchor men and women
Newscasters on TV become the anchormen / women who are responsible to hold the audience for the whole period of the news coverage. Prior to an anchorman / woman sits in front of a microphone and faces the camera a lot of work goes behind the scenes where a news director has to organize and delegate the stories, advertising manager has to generate the income by selling commercials and a team of programme engineers, camera crews and sound technicians perform a yeoman service to get just one act in a perfect order before the news caster carries the responsibility of creating a tremendous impact on the audience in a face- to-face operation, which of course can bring about a magnetizing or a repulsing audience.
A newscaster on television is on his own once the script has been written and handed over to him. He/she should, therefore, be able to attract the viewers in a similar manner how an audience would respond to an actor on stage. In doing so, it requires the change of facial expressions too to suit particular news, as one cannot expect to see a smiling face when the news is about a disaster such as the Meethotamulla affair or a murder. To achieve this, the reader has to identify with the story effectively and transfer it far from being mere words on a page or to give the impression to the viewer that the newscaster is just reading what is written on a screen or a piece of paper for himself. Here the tone of the newscaster also can play a big role as one expects to have a matching tone to the storyline.
If newscasters are pressurized to speak as fast as they could, with a view to getting more news into a particular news slot, it tends to lose the whole idea of disseminating news as no one would be able to understand a word of it. Thus it becomes only jabbering.
Unfortunately, this is what Sri Lankan listeners have to put up with as the majority of newscasters from a variety of TV channels have failed to master the art of breath control when they keep reading at excessive speeds. Good breathing brings out the richness and flavour of the voice. Experts advise that the acceptable pace of news reading should be akin to hemlines, which go up and down, with fashion and words projecting out (in a manner as someone blowing out a candle to extinguish).
The correct reading speed is considered as one which is comfortable to read, clear to the listener and which suits the TV channel. Expert advice about ‘news reading speed could be anywhere between 140-220 words per minute. It is also regarded that breathing of air to a newsreader is akin to oil to an engine – run out of oil, it will seize up’. Therefore the aim of breathing should be to open lungs and throat as widely as possible and inhalation should be deep from the abdomen instead of the shallow breathing from the top of the lungs.
‘As much as projection of voice, breathing, sitting postures during reading news, it becomes necessary for the newscaster to go over the news script in advance so that the sound emanating from the mouth is projected’. It would also be necessary to read the news with a real feeling and sincerity about the sound that comes out rather than just giving the impression to the viewer that the newscaster is reading to himself.
In Sri Lanka all too often, the majority of newsreaders (both Sinhala and English) can be heard running words together, swallowing the ends of words and leaving the sentence trailing in mid-air because their attention has already drifted on the next story. Quite often when two newscasters appear on the TV screen (male and female) and introduce themselves, they are unable to pronounce their own names properly in a comprehensible manner by swallowing their second name.
In addition some of the English newscasters attempt to adopt artificial accents of upper class English with the idea that it might make a difference to the audience. It only becomes a waste of news time as most of their sentences do not project out as clear and natural in English. For goodness sake, audiences do not watch news to judge newscasters' beauty or to investigate whether they have posh English accents, or to see someone reading script to oneself, but to get a feel of what is happening in the country or in the world out of a news bulletin.