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Monday, May 14, 2007

Local Man in Despair Over Present State of Journalism

In "Why Don’t Journalists Get Religion? A Tenuous Bridge to Believers," Gal Beckerman writes
“Religious issues, issues of faith, issues of moral choice, those burdens and struggles that all human beings undergo — those issues deeply interest me,” {New York Times reporter Chris] Hedges says. “Death, birth, love, alienation, sin. This is the real news of people’s lives.”

Yet those are the stories we almost never see.
Later in the same essay, Steve Waldman, co-founder of Beliefnet, says, “In the life of an individual, the big news event is not who came in second in the Iowa caucus. It’s the death of their parents, the birth of their child.”

This afternoon, the local television news opened with a shooting, a fire, a car crash, a missing person, a trial concerning a recent homicide, and a trial concerning a murder over ten years old. None of it has any bearing on us.

What news did the travelers of medieval times bear? Probably such news was meant to convey information, expand knowledge and understanding of the world, and so covered political and economic issues, and inventions or other changes. Events like a gallop-by slaying, the burning of someone's hut, a nightsoil cart crash, a disappeared magician, and a witch-trial, meant to captivate, titilate, and entertain an audience, probably fell to the troubadour to relate. Though they might have been true, they were correctly presented as stories. So the tease on television today goes, "These and other stories coming up at ten." Such is the state of modern local news, feeding us stories.

A regular feature of this news is the bad thing that someone did because they read it in a book, or saw it in a movie. The news is usually purported to be the uproar after, when angry book-hating parents demand that Setting Free the Bears be banned before another child decides to let all the animals out of the zoo; or Interview With a Vampire be removed from the shelves because it has glamorized the sucking of blood and the sleeping in coffins, and there is an epidemic of troubled Goth teens. The blame on books is nothing new, though, as even in the 1830s a defendant claimed he never would have comitted murder if he had not read about the crime in William Harrison Ainsworth's novel Jack Sheppard. Surely this can't be the only news there ever is? Why don't we ever hear about someone inspired by a book to do something good?

The Bible is said to contain the Good News. Though one can easily argue the cons of religious tomes such as the Bible or the Koran, these books have certainly inspired millions of people to be good and do good, especially in charity. How many people have been charmed by Walden into becoming a naturalist? How many people would ever fall in love if they had not read of it in books? How different would the American Revolution have progressed if the colonials had not been inspired by the writing of Thomas Paine? Not everyone wants to rule the universe; some, if not more, want to save it.

Though The Onion is meant as parody, often they feature wonderful stories about simple good things, like "Local Homemaker Fights To Overcome Rubbermaid™ Addiction." Isn't this something we all must face at some time in our life? What has happened that the presentation of some good act or useful information is found merely humorous?

Novelist Gena Showalter encourages her readers to share their news. Never is it my husband left me, or my son failed his algebra test, or my boyfriend just ran over my cat.

Local news could stand being turned on its head. Fill up the first ten minutes or so with those feel-good stories that are usually relegated to the end, and save the murder story for the closing seconds (if the weatherbabe doesn't go long).

The Great Space Coaster had a character that was a talking gnu. Gary Gnu hosted a segment that was called The No Gnews Is Good Gnews Show. We think Gary had the right idea.

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