Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How To Get The News

Back in 1980, when I was sitting in my high school Journalism class , someone asked why the newspaper never covered the "Hard News". My teacher, Mr. Walsh looked at this guy like he was a dipshit, and then he proceeded to tell us that the news was there and that you had to know how to find it. Even back then, the important stories weren't on the front page, they were buried in the back pages near the classified in postage-stamp sized columns. So Mr. Walsh pulled out that day's paper and sure enough, on the page where the classified adds started were stories about problems in Africa and Argentina.

This revelation changed my life in that I always was one step ahead of my peers about world events that continues to this day. The Falklands War? Saw it coming. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut? Wasn't a big surprise. 9/11? Guess what? The government (in the form of the US State Department) actually issued a travel warning about Al Qaeda threatening to hijack commercial airliners. didn't say anything about crashing them into American buildings, they thought this might happen in Africa. This warning was issued in August, 2001. For all of the grief the mainstream news outlets get, the fact is, they do a good job. Could it be better? Hell yes, but in all if you know where to look and how to look you can find all kinds of interesting news.

Take the tragic fire in Charleston. Someone complained that there wasn't enough news coverage on the TV and on Internet sites. They forgot that most newspapers are now online and all they had to do was go here:

And then click on the proper state's link. Bingo! More news than you can possibly use.

The sad thing is that places you'd expect to find current events, the Network and Cable news networks, are painfully lacking. I've talked about this before, Cable News has embraced the tabloid mentality in their quest for ratings so instead of the daily events in Congress or Iraq we are presented with missing pregnant women and Paris Hilton. The problem today is that the Networks have given up and they use the Internet as an excuse. I like to think that this attitude comes from outside of the Network news department , a short-sighted mandate from the corporate Spread-Sheet-Nazis and not from the editorial staff. Since 1981, the major networks have closed their foreign desks simply to save money. This means that for the most part they rely on freelance journalists and this isn't always good. Most of these freelancers are European and they lack a basic understanding of America, this means that they lack the ability to tell the stories in such a way that engages American viewers; who always ask the question : "Why should I care?". The other problem is that when events blow up and the networks finally send an in house reporters to the scene, they often lack knowledge about the situation's back-story and they lack knowledge of the nuance found in the local culture that can better explain the underlying situations. As a result, Americans get a handicapped version of the events by reporters who don't know better.

The worst part of news today is the Tablification of the mainstream. This is a direct result of the OJ Simpson trial and the wall-to-wall coverage that it received from every network. It was a giant set backwards from the highpoint of Cable news: The start of Desert Storm on CNN. CNN's downward spiral can be traced to it's relocation to New York City from Atlanta. The advantage CNN had over every other network was that it wasn't based in New York, so there was no inbreeding with the other networks and this gave them a better view of the world. That's gone today as CNN has sold it's soul for ratings.

So this means that it's up to you, loyal reader, to develop a foundation of knowledge on a wide spectrum of issues so that when you come across a small story buried in the newspaper you can treat it like you would a box-score from a baseball game. The Box-Score was an exercise from my high school Journalism class. You had to write a narrative of a baseball game using only a box-score. Obviously, the more you know about baseball the better job you'll do but even with just the definition of the abbreviations and symbols anybody can write a basic run-down of the game. It's not fair that we all have to work harder but the good news is that it's harder for the news to pull something over on you.

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