You know, I was brought up to believe that keeping up with the news is a person’s responsibility, because you can’t be a good citizen if you aren’t an informed citizen. And I do believe that.
However (bet you knew there was going to be a “however” coming up), it has gotten to the point where I can hardly stand to read or watch the news these days.
Part of that has to do with what passes for news in the 21st century. Half of it seems to consist of items about so-called celebrities, half of whom I’ve never heard of and all of which is none of my damn business, or the scare story of the day over either terrorism or how unhealthy this or that thing is for me. And another part of it has to do with the fact that most political “news” consists of partisan pundits (on all sides) trying to pass off their own beliefs as actual truth.
I must be getting old, because I remember when personal opinion used to be labeled as such in broadcast news. I used to hate George Putnam’s right wing commentaries on the old channel 11 news in Los Angeles when I was growing up. But at least he kept it out of hard news stories he was reading and called his op-ed pieces “One Reporter’s Opinion”.
It irritates the crap out of me that news readers, especially, seem to think their audience needs to be told how to feel about each story, and I’ve nearly given up on television news. I really don’t need to be told that every traffic accident and other mishap is “tragic”. I’m thinking we need to ban that word from hard news for awhile. That, and the chat between news stories, where the news readers share how they feel about a story. I don’t care that Nancy Newsgirl thinks that Paris Hilton (for example) is a slut or that Rob Reporter thinks that the husband did it or that Steve Sportscaster seems to need to share with me that he believes the reports of this or that athlete’s misbehavior.
What I want to know is, whatever happened to “who, what, when, where, why, and how”. Back when I was taking journalism classes and working on the student newspaper in college, we were taught that the lead of any news story, be it in print or broadcast media, needed to include what happened to whom, when and where, and why and how it happened. I hardly ever see that in broadcast news any more, and less and less often in written news stories. It seems like nearly every story, even hard news items, have been turned into feature stories that go through some long, supposedly artistic introduction before we find out what actually happened.
In my work now, writing finance news for several internet outlets, I really try to stick to the facts and to put the essential information in the lead. I probably don’t always succeed, but at least I make the attempt. It seems like fewer and fewer news writers even try any more.
I don’t suppose I will ever completely give up reading the news. It would be too much against my nature and upbringing. But I don’t have to like the state of reporting, and it is likely that I will continue to complain about how sloppy and unprofessional journalism has become in the twenty-first century.