Entertainment Weekly, we ran Monitor, an account of each week's births, deaths, lawsuits and such, among people in show business (the magazine still runs it). With just two pages devoted to it, we regularly made subjective decisions about which items would go in and which would not. And we always avoided celebrity stalkers. Plenty of news organizations report these, but we made a choice not to, figuring that half of what a stalker wants is recognition or notoriety, so why reward them with it?
This is one small example of the kinds of choices reporters and editors make every day. But as 24-hour news has taken over TV and the Internet, fewer and fewer of these kinds of decisions are even considered. And American culture is suffering because of it.
Take the "birther" controversy (please!). If more journalists were taking responsibility for reporting news that's worthwhile, I believe that President Obama would not have felt compelled to make the absurd move of distributing his long-form birth certificate, as he did this morning. Sure, Fox News Channel would still be pushing the story, because it suits that network's (not-so-veiled) agenda. As for other, supposedly objective news operations, they ought to follow Fox News Channel's lead and more thoughtfully assess whether a particular story serves their agenda — an agenda that ought to be primarily about informing the American populace of news that is worthy of consideration, rather than, say, propaganda clearly borne of lies that distracts us from what really matters.
And if legitimate news organizations had not given credence to this bogus news story, then it would have simply faded away. I'm going to spend a lot of time on The Modern Mensch taking the media to task. Though I have not worked as a hard-news journalist, I've spent years at magazines and, more recently, freelancing for newspapers, and I understand how newsroom decisions are made. With layoffs having forced most staffers to do two or three jobs at a time while keeping up-to-date with print, online, mobile and iPad apps, the pressures that have long plagued newsrooms have only gotten more acute.
Which stories in recent memory do you deem unworthy of coverage?
Sometimes The Onion gets it right with just one headline.
And the real "news" is just depressing, as some people are supposedly unconvinced by the birth certificate.