all the news unfit to print

Celine Dion named her twins yesterday, five days after they were born.

And a judge in Brazil ordered McDonald’s to pay $17 K to a former employee who gained 60 pounds in 12 years. He says he felt like he had to eat the food every day to make sure the quality was good enough for customers.

We’re also waiting for Oprah to decide whether or not to ban the B-word. All this you can find on the home page of major media sites, like CNN and Fox. Important news, all that.

I’m at a college journalism conference in Louisville this week and sometimes you despair for the future of reporting. Keynote speaker Joel Pett, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist, displayed his ability to mock everything this morning.

The line between satire and cynicism is a very thin one, I think. Pett is thoughtful about this. And even gracious. But I’m not sure the students get it, so eager they were to applaud his political viewpoints. And to see themselves with his influence.

Another workshop about blogging was an exercise in narcissism, even though Andy Dehnart (who blogs about reality TV) had some great points, and great examples. But the temptation for self-aggrandizement is great, as I’ve said before. This is especially true given that people can be famous for being famous. He was candid about this temptation and then succumbed.

There are about 1200 college journalist here, and most of them want to be famous for something too. And the thing they often want to be famous for is their opinion. This is a problem. If we are going to sustain a democracy, we need accurate information to make thoughtful decision of our own. It’s more complex than “just the facts,” perhaps, but it is also more important than it’s true because I think it’s true.

So in a small session about reporting on pop culture I encouraged them to go deeper—to ask questions about processes, not just people. To ask how more than who, and why more than what.

Yes, we need to know what and who. But we don’t have to obsess about it. That’s what makes the names of Celine’s twins news (Eddy and Ernest, by the way). Those are merely who and what questions, when there are so many how and why questions that need attending to. Prett tells, for example, about an editorial writer who asked why you couldn’t get a restraining order in a domestic violence case over the weekend, when it’s most likely to occur. (Human services offices were closed.)

I’ve been a college media adviser about 20 years, and student reporters often stop after they ask who and what, without exploring the motives or the means. Where does the profit go? How are the choices made? Why is this important? These are good questions to ask, but they seldom are. And if they do ask them, they ask their friends. So we get opinions, uninformed but uniformly politically correct.

I know (hope) the student journalists will grow up, but sometimes it’s the advisers and teachers I worry about, not to mention the media conglomerates and markets.

How does a middle-aged man make international news for gaining 5 pounds a year anyway?

And why does it matter?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

2 thoughts on “all the news unfit to print”

  1. This is exactly why, now that Michael’s decided he wants to study journalism, that I would encourage him to attend your school. There is a dearth of instructors who actually instruct.

    However, I’ll never forget the trouble I got in when, prompted by you, I dug deeper on a particular story. Sometimes it’s not pretty. But it’s important.

  2. I remember that trouble, too, Christy. And how it changed the way I looked at people in power/people with influence/people cloaked in fame forever.

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