Five Least Important News Stories

Posted on December 28, 2007. Filed under: Personal Blog |

On Christmas day, I appeared on The Mike Powell Power Hour (unless its been renamed to include Adam and the second hour – I’m not sure) on CKCU 93.1 fm in Ottawa. We spoke about the five most over-reported news stories of the year. This was my list and my notes about each:

# The Five The Problem
5 Vapourware like Google OpenSocial

Following the Corporate Agenda, not setting it

4 Religious Schooling in Ontario in the Context of the Provincial Election

Good reporting not adequately highlighted by National Newspaper Awards

3 Anne Nicole Smith

Celebrity Coverage

2 Schriebergate

He-said/She-said Approach to Objectivity

1 That Mythical Creature: The Veiled Muslim Voter

Allowing the government to manage the news cycle and bury unfavourable stories

5. Within the tech journalism community, this got a huge amount of play. And it was too early a release. And it’s added up to nothing. And Google has a history of trying initiatives that don’t pan out.
Reporters should set the agenda by asking questions about what they deign to be in ‘the public interest’. And this becomes more likely when we have a diverse and competitive news market; when markets have a large number of newspapers – like in Britain, New York, and Toronto – then newspapers adopt perspectives – like the Economic POV of The Economist, or the left-wing POV of The Toronto Star, or the decidedly right-wing perspective of media newcomers like the National Post and Fox News. Newspapers don’t do this when they have a de facto monopoly in a market, as they strive to represent everybody. Newspapers should strive to incorporate their values into the sorts of stories that they choose to cover – do you want to focus on poverty (The Star does this well) – do you want to focus on business (the Financial Post does this quite well).
A question of resources. Online is terrible. Places like Japan and Scandenavia have more than half of their population subscribe to a newspaper. In Canada that number is about 15%

4. Toronto Star features when they sent their reporters into local private religious schools (feature in Ryerson Journalism Review). But the National Newspaper Awards don’t adequately highlight the best of Canadian journalism. The Pulitzer prizes do a good job of showcasing the best reporting. NNA don’t. They don’t have an RSS feed. They don’t republish the articles on their web page.

3. In the 70s, publications like Time magazine used to put cats and ice cream on their cover. (literally). And at the time it was hailed as brilliant and innovative because sales shot up. In the 90s, similarly, they would have celebrity covers with the likes of Tom Cruise. But they don’t do those things anymore. They have a lot more hard news covers or covers about education or back pain or things like that. And it reflects the segmenting of the news industry and the proliferation of celebrity magazines. Time sales don’t increase when they put Tom Cruise on the cover anymore – in part because such a small portion of their sales are at the newsstand.

2. Reporting is better when newspapers don’t feel obliged to take a bland ‘he said-she said’ approach to objectivity. Objectivity is not antithetical to analysis and evaluating the credibility of sources.

1. All good journalism is investigative. William Randolph Hearst said that “news is what people don’t want you to know, everything else is advertising.” I think that the media is doing too much advertising; Just because the Prime Minister of Canada says it, for instance, doesn’t mean it’s news. Maybe we shouldn’t be covering all of their press conferences – especially when they have an undue degree of control over which reporters are allowed to ask questions. Or when they use matters such as this to distract from other stories. When the media goes along with this, they are de facto burying another story.

And one other thought about the media: on the lack of quality military coverage in Canada. America has milblogs. America has embedding with the troops. America has video of the troops going house-to-house. We don’t have that.

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