Friday, October 06, 2006

What is news?

Yes. What is news? What should qualify as news? That's what I want to know today. I've been thinking about it all week, in the wake of Foleygate (Predatorgate? How long will scandals be "gated"? Until the Baby Boomers die off?) Merriam-Websters says "a report of recent events . . . previously unknown information . . . something having a specified influence or effect." The word news comes from the Middle English newes, which meant new things, new tidings.

harrumph. "A report of recent events." That doesn't help me a whole lot in my plan to be choosy about what is, and isn't news. Unfortunately, Paris Hilton's DUI arrest qualifies as news under
that definition, as does whether or not Madonna adopted a baby boy in Malawi. Hey, look. I like reading People in my doctor's office as much as the next girl on the block. But I don't want to read People in my Newsweek or Chicago Tribune.

"Previously unknown information?" We're getting warmer. M-W gives information as "the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence . . . knowledge gained from investigation, study or instruction." Isn't that at least partly why we watch/listen to/read about the news? To get a little bit smarter about what's going on in the world, to understand the events in a perspective? Considering news from that perspective means that Tom Cruise's latest 15 minutes of fame for jumping on Oprah's couch for Katie would be limited to an exploration of his weirdo Scient(sic)ology allergy to psychopharmacology.

It does make news sound a bit dry, though. Makes one think of long droning NPR reports. BBC newscasts. Snoring through history lectures in high school. But I had some great high school and college history professors who presented knowledge and information as something living and lively. I think that's where the third part of the definition comes in: having a specified influence or effect.

That's what makes news interesting: linking the bald facts to what they mean. And that's why what we hear as news these days is rarely news. Sounds bites leave no time for explanations. Telling me that 18 soldiers were killed in Iraq last week makes me sad--but it passes. Telling me exactly why 18 soldiers were killed in Iraq last week leaves me angry and bitter and longing to remove Republicans from office.

That's the kind of news I'd like to hear about Mark Foley. Go way beyond the yucky (though apparently not illegal) IMs to the real news: who covered up what and why. That's real news, and that's why this story has legs. Not because of the initially salacious copy. Not because of the Republican attempts to make this an anti-gay story. Because Republicans who've made Family Values a trademarkable badge of the Republican party appear to be showing that they really value nothing above their offices.

Minor Pages being harassed is far less important than maintaining a facade of family values before the voters. Covering up a colleague's misbehavior is far more important than engaging in an investigation that might reveal Republican family values are not quite as sturdy as they might seem.

That's news. That's worth reading about.



Post a Comment

<< Home