News is No News

If I told you what I did today, you probably would be left unimpressed. Rather obviously, I spent a part of today writing a blog. Let us avoid any metaphysical musings of over whether the blog-writing should be described in the past or present tense, and move on to some of the other things I did today.

• Waking up.
• Eating a Belgian chocolate biscuit purchased from Marks & Spencer.
• Suggesting ways to highlight public opposition to the extradition of Gary McKinnon
• Watching Aston Villa play Chelsea on the television.
• Flossing.
• Asking if the water supply had been turned off.
• Resending an email twice.
• Surprising someone whilst they cleaned the toilet.

This list is neither sequential, nor exhaustive. Apart from the tenuous connection to Gary McKinnon’s plight, none of it could be considered newsworthy. But who determines the worth in the newsworthy? Not me. Everything listed above is news, at least per the Merriam-Webster definition of ‘news’:

Main Entry: news
Pronunciation: \ˈnüz, ˈnyüz\
Function: noun plural but singular in construction
Usage: often attributive
Date: 15th century

1 a : a report of recent events b : previously unknown information [I’ve got news for you] c : something having a specified influence or effect [the rain was good news for lawns and gardens — Garrison Keillor] [the virus was bad news]
2 a : material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast b : matter that is newsworthy

What I did is news. I mean, none of what I did was reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast. But it would be rather circular to assert that something cannot be news until it has been reported in a news outlet. That would mean news journalists could only find out what to report by checking what has been reported elsewhere. Which is probably how some of them work, but we can skip that topic for now. What I did was news because the events were recent and you did not know about them (assuming you are not party to the creeping surveillance society and that none of you were spying on me earlier today). News can be news even though you might not feel it newsworthy. If you had to tell a child that their dog had died, it would certainly constitute news, but there is no demand to extend newspaper obituary pages to cover pets.

The worthiness of the newsworthy is subjective. I defy anyone to watch a 24-hour news channel for a full 24 hours without questioning the inclusion of at least one story. The news supposedly relates the latest about the important and the interesting, but important and interesting to whom? Both the Financial Times and The Sun report news, but there are few stories in common. A lot of people are upset by the death of Stephen Gately. However, I feel no better informed because I now know the name of a Boyzone singer whose life I had largely been unaware of. I have no particular reason to know more about his funeral arrangements than those of the thirty-eight who died because of the Lahore attacks a few days later.

The significance of entertainment news stems from the fact people care about being entertained. But entertainment news is now a misnomer. Nowadays, almost all news is entertainment. Real news might consist of the announcement of the wedding of friends, the loss of a family member or a change in the law that changes the way you do your job. It is unlikely that the news will never tell you this news. The news only tells people what is relevant to them when talking about changes in taxes or the latest reform of education policy. Traffic congestion only gets reported when people are already stuck in traffic jams, and nobody finds out they have been hit by a power blackout by switching on the TV. Mass media news is dominated by stories that people find interesting despite, or perhaps because, of their irrelevance to the personal circumstances of the audience. Newspapers could be better described as stuffpapers because they tell the story of how stuff happens. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp might be better entitled Gossip Corp because of how much it spends on generating speculation. And if the US had proper laws to stop false advertising, then the Fox News network would now be called the ‘Why Anyone Who Voted for Obama is Wrong Network’.

There is another common observation that much of what fills news output is not news but commentary. But after a blog post commenting on how there is no news in the news, I cannot complain about that.

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