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50 Years of Network News: Breaking News - Part I


In the age of global network television, breaking news and its distinct format has become the norm in most people’s lives.

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Here we mark the 50th anniversary of that historic moment with a look back at breaking news events over the past five decades. Source: 1 NEWS

Regular programming is interrupted, a striking headline summarises a major incident and a presenter ad-libs the earliest confirmed reports.

But it wasn’t always this way.

As former 1 NEWS presenter Peter Williams recalls, television has historically lagged behind other news formats.

“I don’t think television in this country, or anywhere really, has a great record of what you might call ‘breaking news’.”

He says that news was often “the follow up to what’s already been in the paper”.

This was the result of the technical limitations of film development used in early news production.

“The only aspect of a news broadcast in the early 1980s was the newsreader, everything else was recorded.”

For the decade following the creation of a national news broadcast, the only live element of the show was the newsreader reading the day’s news.

However, change was just around the corner.

Satellite technology normally reserved for transmitting major sporting events was appropriated by the news team during the infamous 1981 Springboks tour.

When anti-apartheid protestors converged on Rugby Park in Hamilton during the Springboks vs Waikato match, the call was made to interrupt normal programming for a special news broadcast.

One of New Zealand’s earliest forms of breaking television news played out as live scenes of a tense stand-off between outraged rugby fans and fiercely determined protestors.

Since then, major news events alongside advances in networking technology have evolved rapidly.

“9/11 definitely changed the way we cover stories,” explains 1 NEWS Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver.

“What happened in 9/11 is that we presented rolling coverage with Judy Bailey and Richard Long at the helm and this has shaped the way we do breaking news stories now.”

After 9/11 the breaking news spotlight became focused on coverage of major tragedies and national disasters at home.

The Christchurch earthquakes, Pike River mine disaster and more recently the March 15 terrorist attacks has seen the interruption of regular programming in order to urgently inform the public.

“We have to make the public feel that they’re there,” Ms Dreaver says.

“They expect that and so our role is to make sure that they are getting accurate information, they’re getting live information, they’re getting information that’s happening, but it has to be responsible information – it has to be the truth.”

From breaking news in television, to alerts on mobile apps, breaking news has come a long way in New Zealand over the last 50 years.

Watch more on 50 years of Network News here.