Launched in 1980, CNN was the lone 24-hour news network for 15 years, competing predominantly with the evening newscasts of the big three — ABC, NBC, and CBS.
It was not until the mid-1990s — following the news phenomenon that was the Gulf War on CNN — that MSNBC and Fox News launched to compete in the 24-hour news cycle.
Many more 24-hour news networks also followed in different parts of the world.
Today these networks are as much a part of life as the daily newspaper and evening newscast used to be. The advent of CNN allowed viewers to follow events on the other side of the globe, minute-by-minute.
This permanent international coverage transformed the way people experienced and saw the world. As this became more common, the 24-hour news channels started competing in how they packaged and presented the news, initiating a new rush for news-as-spectacle and entertainment.
The words breaking news used to mean something; indeed, they were usually of great significance.
Today, hundreds of glittery breaking news banners flash across screens every day, usually reporting nothing of any importance, simply more trivial news packaged as sensationalist entertainment.
I believe that people have grown tired of this incarnation of news, a distraction rather than reporting anything of importance.
An element of newscasts that used to be presented as somewhat frivolous entertainment was the weatherman, or weathergirl, as she was known.
How the world has changed. The weather has now become the only truly essential element of newscasts, slotted in between the blocks of sensationalist news-as entertainment.
The weather report actually covers news that really matters, namely the state of the planet and the often deadly and destructive climate disasters.
The weather report alerts people when to open or close windows, to board up homes and evacuate them, or to take refuge on an upper floor.
When such weather arrives, TVs and mobile phones often cease to function. The weather makes no distinction — its anger and power of devastation affects everyone.
The number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last three decades, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of damage every year, and directly affecting millions of lives.
In 2022, hurricane Ian alone caused damage estimated at more than $100 billion in the US and Cuba, while drought in the Horn of Africa affected 36 million people, and hundreds of people lost their lives to flooding in West Africa, as well as cyclones and tropical storms in Asia.
In 2017, hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma caused hundreds of billions of dollars of damage, while cyclone Idai claimed more than 1,000 lives in southern Africa in 2019.
In July, The New York Times reported on concurrent climate disasters in the US — catastrophic floods in the Hudson Valley, a heat dome over Phoenix, a deluge in Vermont, a rare tornado in Delaware, Canadian wildfires, deadly heatwaves in Texas and Oklahoma, and torrential rain causing flooding in Chicago.
Gov. of New York Kathy Hochul aptly termed these climate-related disasters “our new normal.”
According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “in 1980, the average time between billion-dollar disasters was 82 days. From 2018 to 2022, the average time between these most extreme events, even controlled for inflation, was just 18 days.”
That is why the jobs of the weather forecasters, the news media, and governments today are increasingly to warn, to report on, and to manage these tragically recurring disasters.
The environment and the climate are catching up on the arrogance and vanity of humans.
There is no longer any hiding place and no real shelter from the environment or from the weather.
Everyone will ultimately be affected and will become very dependent on the weather report.
When the news cuts, all people will be able to do is look up at the clouds and watch the anger of our planet twist homes and minds in fear.
- Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He led the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington, D.C. from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.