Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Icons and Squeaky Wheels

Once upon a time it was the practice in our country that news consisted of information that was of importance to us as a nation or as a region. Importance was defined fairly narrowly--something that could change our lives or affect them, either positively or negatively. Sometimes that news would affect only one segment of our society; other times the affect would be across the board. What it costs to live in our country was considered news. What Congress was debating was considered news. How much water is in our reservoirs was considered news. Agricultural methodology changes in the Midwest was considered news.

Pretty much we knew that "news" appeared on the front pages of newspapers or in the front sections, or were the opening headlines of television news reports. Reading a daily paper and/or catching the evening news reports on television/radio was a communal custom across the land.

No, those newspapers were not devoted only to "hard" news, but basically they were. Any "soft" news was buried in interior sections. Yes, mankind being mankind, there were social columns that told us who was marrying whom and what the latest styles were going to be in clothing. And yes, some papers have always had a resident gossip columnist. But no one back in those dark ages considered this type of information to be news of the type necessary to be blazoned on the front page.

There were some publications that came in a physical newspaper form that purported to be giving us news, but we all knew that they didn't. You know, those tabloids that were sold in supermarket checkout lines with headlines that yelled, "Aliens hold Midwestern man hostage as his wife gives birth to her own mother." These types of publications were truly the "low man on the totem pole" in the newspaper hierarchy, and no one, but no one regarded them as a serious news source.

Fast forward to today and the situation is wholly different. More and more today the "major" newspapers are becoming repositories for stories that would have been buried in yesteryear's newspapers, if they were printed at all. Today's news, if we can call it that, is about our "icons," the highly visible people whom our society has elevated to "superstar" status. Generally, these people come from the entertainment/sports arenas. Some come from the fashion industry. The rare few who make it to "icon" status who come from government and industry usually do so because they have one of two things that has propelled them forward: a sex scandal or mega, mega bucks. The saying goes, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." Today that translates to mean that those who have icon status, who are "personalities," get put on the front page: real news is now relegated to the interior sections somewhere, if it makes it into a paper at all.

We do subscribe to our local newspaper. I don't think the paper would be happy to know that we do so mainly for the coupons and store circulars that come with it during the week. We don't so much read the paper as we skim it to see if anything of real importance is buried in it. Yes, on occasion, the paper does carry a front page story of interest to those in our borough or city. Sometimes they actually carry news on the front page. Sadly, mostly they don't. Open the front page of the front section and you have arts and entertainment staring at you--yup, all the latest tidbits of (no) interest on entertainers and sports figures. Sports gets a complete section of its own. International and national news? Buried here and there when given at all.

An editorial in our paper last week was a rant about how they were disappointed that more Islanders did not show up at a public meeting with the MTA to discuss Island concerns about the new MTA policies. They stated that they had advertised that forum in the paper. Uh huh. That article announcing the forum was buried somewhere in the interior. What made the front page? The death of some 32 year old actress under what may be suspicious circumstances. Like I care.

There are all kinds of outlets today from which we can get news. Newspapers, with only a few exceptions, are not the favored outlet for most people. When newspapers complain about declining numbers of subscribers, they just might look to themselves for the source of the problem. As long as the "news" part continues to be less important than the antics of the Hollywood and sports crowd, readership is going to continue to decline.

While out shopping Sunday I noticed the headline story on the front page of the Daily News--it was about the terrorist on an airplane who was caught before he could ignite the bomb he was carrying. Real news, right? Sure it was. With a headline that screamed out underpants where terrorist hid bomb, emphasis underpants. Want to bet just how many people were drawn to the paper, not by the "real" news that might have been buried in there but by the underwear reference? Add to the icons and the squeaky wheels that sex sells and you've got the philosophy of a whole bunch of newspapers.

And just a final word on those newspapers that are Jewish ones. They aren't any better than their secular counterparts. They, too, are "icon/squeaky wheel" driven. Real news is rare and certainly not reported in anything resembling an objective manner. Advertisements outnumber news stories. Personal opinion columns certainly outnumber news stories. There's a lot of reporting on personalities within the frum communities. Sometimes the letters to the editors outnumber the number of news items. Honestly? When I glance at some of these Jewish papers what comes to mind is not newspaper but tabloid.

One major newspaper uses as a banner "All the news that's fit to print." Yeah, right. That really should read "All the quasi-news that fits into our print allotment."


Trudy said...

You expect newspapers to be objective? You expect them to report news and leave gossip and idol worship out? How quaint. As for the Jewish rags, they'd need to work hard to get up to tabloid status.

G6 said...

I long ago gave up my subscription to any newspaper for many of the reasons you delineate, but when I have bothered to pick up a copy, The Wall Street Journal still seems to have some standards (no, I don't work for them...).

I agree with you in regard to the Jewish papers as well. Who even reads those articles (not that many of them are worthy of the paper they are printed on in my opinion.....)
Most people simply flip to the "Crisis" columns (Chronicles or Shidduch or otherwise....), check out the ads and are done with it...

JS said...

Agree. Would never subscribe to a paper, but if I did, it would likely be the WSJ as they seem to still have some integrity for what a newspaper is supposed to be.

I consider myself a news junkie and read multiple news sources every day online and am constantly frustrated by just how difficult it is to get even simple, basic information on an issue of importance. For example, it is practically impossible to find any real information on health care reform other than the tabloid aspects of who is siding with whom, who is paying off whom for a vote, or just the average ranting and raving.

Allen said...

I'm with G6 in that the only printed newspaper I read anymore is the WSJ. It's not that it's perfect but at least it still actually publishes news. More, I don't have to worry that if a child or grandchild spots the paper in my house and scans the front page that they are going to be getting an education in subjects I don't want or need them them knowing about.

Jewish newspaper? What's that? Those pieces of paper don't qualify as newspapers under any definition.

Tova said...

My parents subscribed to three daily newspapers in English as well as a Yiddish language daily paper and a weekly English Jewish paper. Watching the news on television was serious business for my parents. Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were who my parents admired in the news world. Yes, on Sunday mornings we kids got the funnies as part of the papers. But we regularly had to clip items to bring into school for current events. There wasn't anything printed in those papers which my parents would have to censor for us.

Fast forward to now and we don't subscribe to even one paper, although I'll echo that we buy the Wall Street Journal on occasion. Televisiion news is so biased and full of non newsy items that we don't bother with it anymore. I'll get online and browse when I'm looking for what is going on in the world. When Tiger Woods and Michael Jackson are who are newsworthy why bother to buy a paper?