What I Want From the News

It’s gotten so I almost hate the news. I want to know what’s going on in the world, but I’ve lost confidence that there’s as much as a single organization out there communicating it in a trustworthy way. We hear lots of talk today about fake news, but I’m convinced this is less of a concern than what passes as real news. It takes little more than a brief visit to [insert your favorite, then least-favorite news outlet here], to see how the news is far more (and far less) than the news. If I could dream up the news outlet I want, it would be defined by characteristics like these.

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Truth vs lies. It would be based on truth rather than lies. This should go without saying but, sadly, we know that many media outlets are willing to tell lies. And even if they don’t outright tell lies, they may suppress truth, something that makes them equally culpable (since, as we teach our children, deceit is no more noble than fibbing). Tell me the truth and nothing but the truth!

Objectivity vs agenda. It would rely on objectivity instead of agenda. What we find in the news today is that so often it’s not “just the facts, ma’am” but the furthering of an agenda. Stories are chosen or ignored depending on how they will further or damage a particular agenda. News is reported or ignored on the basis of an underlying ideology. Simply tell it like it is!

Information vs entertainment. So much of the news today is actually entertainment, or, at best infotainment. News is not just the important events that are shaping our world, but gossip related to celebrities and trite stories of no lasting import. Let news be the reporting of important events and leave the rest for another time and place!

Reporting vs editorializing. It would distinguish between reporting and editorializing, between the presentation of facts and their interpretation. When the news is reported, it would be a simple communication of the known facts. Then, if reporters want to editorialize, they would make it clear that they are now discussing not just the facts, but a subjective interpretation of those facts. Stop blending these two together!

Proportion vs obsession. It would maintain a sense of proportion so that stories of major importance would be accorded major emphasis and stories of minor importance would be accorded minor emphasis. Today it is not unusual to find the exact opposite—headlines are given to the trials and triumphs of celebrities while matters of major international impact are relegated to a spot far below the proverbial fold. This upsets all sense of proportion and makes minor matters seem far more urgent or important than they are. Stop majoring on the minors!

The fact is, the media does not just report the news; they create the news. They define the news by deciding what will (or will not) appear on their front pages or their broadcasts; they weight the news by the space and time they give it; they interpret the news by their editorializing. I can’t help but wish they’d just give us the news.

(Yes, I know it’s not quite so simple. Who is actually entirely objective? And what is the line between reporting and interpreting? These aren’t always as easy as they may seem. But a guy can wish, can’t he?)