All News Is Bad News

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One often hears that the news media are distorting the situation in Iraq by reporting only the bad things that happen there. That’s true. But what you have to realize is that the news media report the bad things everywhere, including in the United States.

Unfortunately, news is generally defined as bad news for somebody. Most journalists see news as scandal, misfortune, controversy, tragedy or calamity.

I once made a speech to a group and as a prop had picked a front page of my own newspaper at random. I clipped out all of the negative stories on Page One. What I had left to hold up to the audience were the name of the newspaper and the weather report. That’s all that was left of the front page. Every story on that particular page had been about crime, controversy and tragedy.

Of course, you do find positive news stories, especially in the long run. In my opinion, the best newspapers today are to be found in small to medium-size towns and cities. Newspapers in smaller places tend to be what I think newspapers ought to be — an unbiased record of the day in the life of the community.

In a normal community, there will be occasional tragedies and crimes, but for the most part, good things happen. Government works as it is supposed to work. People do good things for each other. Couples are married. Children are born. People go to concerts and plays. They celebrate important events in their lives. All of these have, in my opinion, a place in the newspaper. A person should not have to suffer death, injury or scandal to get his or her name in the local newspaper.

In recent years, however, there has been a trend, especially in the larger cities, toward sensationalism. Another disturbing trend has been a concentration on the commercial entertainment industry. Too many journalists come out of the university system not only poorly educated but with a built-in cynicism. What is lost is that wonderful thing, perspective, because if you report only the bad and leave out the good, you’ve distorted reality.

It’s hard, however, to convince most journalists that soldiers painting a school, delivering school supplies or playing soccer with a group of children is news. That’s automatically rejected as not news. It’s news, however, when one or more of the soldiers are killed. It should, of course, all be considered news, but the problem for the reporter is that the editor back home isn’t going to devote much space to news from Iraq unless it’s sensational.

The basic problem is that news is by nature fragmentary. It’s very hard to keep perspective in one news story. For example, draw a line and say that’s the life of the community on a particular day. Now pick out 10 points on that line and say that’s the news of the day. Obviously, far more is unwritten about than is written about. What is called news happened, but a great deal more happened that goes unreported. Hence, there is the loss of perspective.

I don’t know the answer, except to remind you that news is greatly over-rated and is inherently a distortion of reality due to limits of space and time. You should be careful not to become a news junkie. Really important things don’t happen on a daily basis, much less on an hourly basis.

I had a conversation years ago with novelist Andrew Lytle. He said he had moved into a cabin in the mountains, subscribed to no newspapers or magazines and had neither a radio nor a television set.

"If anything important happens," he said, "I’ll hear about it by rumor."

As strange as that might sound, it’s really good advice.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.

© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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