International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Reality
What is news?
this is rarely a subject I write about, but talk about incessantly
with friends, colleagues and family: What is news? In other words,
what should be something we know about nationally or as we used
to say in bullpen sessions in bare-bones weeklies, what is newsworthy?
Should there be a national litmus for defining news, as opposed
to a random happening that might be interesting if examined ad nauseam.
Local news is exempt
from this discussion. It is always going to be loaded with stuff like
brush fires and community drives, the odd burglary and the always-popular
weather anomalies. Then there is the obligatory cute story about kittens
or a guy breaking the state record for sitting in a tree. Because it's
extremely difficult to fill print and air space anywhere, especially
in say Omaha, Nebraska, local news doesn't count. Neither does morning
television or radio count, which are both chockfull of banal absurdity.
But national news needs to have some standards of coverage, which I
argue it has abused beyond repair.
I was reminded of all this when a debate began over the coverage of
the so-called TEA Party protests, which were dubious in their construct
for several salient reasons, not the least of which was that tea was
not literally involved and of course its falling short as an homage
to the original Boston Tea Party since it was not over "taxation
without representation" but just taxation. I get people don't like
taxes or the government to spend money, even if they ironically love
entitlements, a large military, infrastructure, air travel, and the
entirety of the monetary system. But really, who is in favor of taxes?
This is what I call a slam-dunk issue and thus no need for heralding
the protest, like anti-war rallies. War is bad. We get it. Give me something
I can work with like the fight against cat juggling or Mother's Against
But nevertheless a protest is definitely news, even if it is cringingly
promoted by a major news organization and as a result almost completely
ignored by others. This usually reeks of a staged event, like something
out of "Citizen Kane", so then how much of it was an actual
story as opposed to another in a random string of barely interesting
human endeavors kick-starting another news cycle?
News Cycle, which means a 24-72 hour period when one story becomes the
most important thing in the civilized universe and then disappears completely,
is also a major culprit for jamming odd events or arbitrary tragedies
into a form of celebratory voyeurism. There are too many of these babies
to recount, but you know what I mean. One is going on right now. Pay
attention to see if it lasts the week. I doubt it.
To put to bed current events and get to the universal argument of what
is news and what isn't, we go to the Pirate/U.S. Navy story, which absolutely
is news. In fact, it is big time news. When an impoverished nation bores
outlaws of the high seas and holds up the greatest navy in the history
of human kind, it is a cranking story. It has international intrigue,
national security interests, life and death outcomes, and may ultimately
affect the nation's health and well being. This compared to say a kidnapping
of a ten year-old in Bucks County, Pennsylvania is not newsworthy outside
of Bucks County. Maybe if the kid was the offspring of an inaugural
transcontinental flight pilot or perhaps if the ten-year old were the
kidnapper, then we'd have something, otherwise, if Mr. And Mrs. Smith
loses their kid to a crazed neighbor for a few weeks, I don't need to
know about it.
This kind of thing has been a problem since the 1980s in broadcast/network
news. It is a terrible epidemic of what I call the "Kid Down The
Well Syndrome" -- my own spiteful homage to the Depression Era
penchant for struggling radio news outlets to bring the drama of small
town fire departments' attempted rescue of stupid, unsupervised children
after they were stuck somewhere.
Today the advent of 24-hour news has taken KDWS to another level of
minutia. This does not include dime-a-dozen opinion scream-fests hosted
by pasty middle-aged men in desperate need of blowjobs and access to
history books, but does include marginal stories that have been dragged
out for literally weeks. Good examples of this is the death of Princess
Diana, which has since taken on this queer Elvis revisionist disease
or the JFK Junior airplane crash, or even the demise of someone who
was on a constant deathwatch like Ronald Reagan or Gerald Ford. The
reason I forgive talk-hosts from this breakdown is that I believe it
important that pre-teens learning civics to see that even grown men
have a difficult time understanding the stark differences between socialism
and fascism. I include the marking of dead major celebrities or political
figures as marginal for it is not an on-going event. They are dead.
Tell us, and move on.
Everyone knows it was the OJ. Trial that put cable networks on this
course. The ratings were nuts, the national furor over the rainbow,
and the opportunity for career-building and book deals too good to pass
up. Shit, the only reason Greta Van Sustren could afford to reconstruct
her face and muck up the airwaves with endless pabulum on desperate
boyfriends who prostitute their missing sisters or deadbeat dads smuggling
dope from Indonesia to sate a gambling jones or the latest KDWS was
Orenthal James Simpson, another reason The Juice should get the juice.
All right, sorry about the bad pun, but this is a particularly galling
subject, these missing kids in hotels and abused animal stories do not
compare in the newsworthy department to a lunatic Asian guy in Binghamton
shooting up the neighborhood because a black guy is president or something
fairly wacky like that. That's news, because lone gunman with a shoulder
chip is America's news bread-and-butter. It's tradition, so it gets
I shan't belabor the point another sentence, but to leave you with a
short list of what is news and not news, so if you see it, you can quickly
identify it and either be well-informed or turn the station/page. If
you stay with the story, you're going to have to admit that even though
you do not buy the National Enquirer and do not consider yourself a
nosey rubbernecker, you're either completely bored with the concept
of your own existence or simply too lazy to turn away from Headline
News and the ear-piercing claptrap coming out of the angry woman with
the retro haircut.
1. The president's choice of pet is not news. Dog rips out president's
jugular is news.
2. Anyone saying something really dumb like "Hitler was a fair
diplomat" or "So-and-so likes to hump squirrels" is not
news. Government either spying on its citizens or its officials voting
on bills they have not read or understood is news.
3. Any law broken on a cell phone camera is not news. A law broken that
costs you money like banks being run like casinos is news.
4. Internet scams on the elderly and kids are not news. Internet viruses
that infiltrate our international spy network are news.
5. Any domestic squabble, violence or general bad behavior, unless it
becomes serial and spreads throughout a fairly large region of the country
is not news. Raul Castro poisoning his brother's cigars is news.
6. Someone famous announcing any new revelations about their sexuality
is not news. The homosexual community gaining their civil rights is
7. In fact, anything about someone famous, unless they are running for
major office, saving the Third World (not talking about it, actually
saving it) or firebombing a village -- this includes sports celebrities,
who are dumber than dirt and even less important, is not news. Fuck
celebrities. This is never news.
8. Nothing a former civil servant has to say, especially those who will
be dead much sooner than later and thus have no stake in the issues
being decided is not news. An Al Gore vs. Dick Chaney pheasant shoot
at the equator is news.
9. Dumb ass boyfriends of defeated candidates dumping their pregnant
teenaged girlfriends are not news. If dumb boyfriend takes on almost
future mother-in-law for Alaskan governor's office, then it's news.
10. Any jackass mauled by bears at the zoo is not news. Same bears being
awarded custody to jackass's children is news.
© James Campion April 21st 2009
in the UK
Summit Sends The Euro-Masses A-Riotin'
Nothing jacks my adrenaline like a good old-fashioned protest riot.
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