Commentary: Does ‘tonight’ really mean ‘tonight,’ tonight?

July 31, 2015
Category: Uncategorized
Screenshot from ABC World News Tonight.

Screenshot from ABC World News Tonight.

It’s a common ploy in news writing — using a time reference like “tonight,” “this morning,” or “overnight” to give a story an air of immediacy. But is it needed? And is it accurate?

Sometimes it is needed. For instance: “the decision announced this morning…” when it really was announced this morning and is different from the decision announced, say, yesterday.

Sometimes it is accurate – “a plane crash tonight…” when it really did happen tonight.

But too often, it’s neither. Too often the time reference is clearly meant just to give the story some punch. And too often it’s plain wrong.

Take ABC’s “World News Tonight with David Muir” for example.

On Tuesday, July 21, I counted 45 “tonight” references in the newscast. All but 10 of the “tonights” were in anchor scripts. The other 10 were in reporter packages or live shots. With a news hole of roughly 20 minutes, that’s a “tonight” every 26 seconds.

Were all the “tonights” necessary? In my opinion, no. Most were like Newswriting 102 in hyper overdrive. Not needed. Only thrown in to give the story an air of immediacy – a false air of immediacy.

Were they accurate? For most, if not all — no. Lines like ‘new video released tonight’ when the video had aired most of the day on other networks, cable channels and online were simply false. Lines like ‘investigators say tonight’ are also inaccurate. Unless you consider early afternoon as “tonight.”

“World News Tonight” is not alone. Seems everybody does it. But that does not make it right. The morning newscasts — on broadcast networks and cable channels — are equal opportunity offenders.

Listen to the morning newscasts for the “overnight” and “this morning” references — like “new video overnight” when the video was clearly shot in daylight hours. And “new details overnight” when the details actually came out the evening before – if not earlier.

I get it. I produced many, many hours of morning tv news. You want your newscast to have that air of immediacy.

But is immediacy worth the price of accuracy?

In my opinion – no. That’s Journo 101.

Ric Ward spent 20 years at CNN as an award-winning writer, copy editor, line producer, executive producer and network supervising producer. Prior to CNN, he was at WKRN and WSMV in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at @RicCNN and https://www.linkedin.com/in/ricwardcnn