Friday, February 09, 2007

Tense in the news

I will skip questioning why this is "Breaking News," but yesterday CNN sent me this tidbit:

-- Anna Nicole Smith dies after being found unconscious in her hotel room, a law enforcement source says.

"Dies." Is she dying right now? Is she dying over and over again? Or has she DIED?

I don't understand why the media has to use the present tense. If the goal is to report on an event that has happened, why write about it like it is happening now? It is particularly appalling when it is about something as final as death. It's not really a prolonged event, usually. Does the present tense make it seem more urgent, as it might in fiction? Does it pump up the drama in some way? Excuse me for being so linear, but if it has happened shouldn't we be using the past tense?

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