“I don’t believe that,” another mom said. “It would be in the news if it were true.” I couldn’t convince her that neither the front page of her local paper nor the nightly news keeps an ongoing tally of all the things that are wrong in the world. It’s not our job to tell you what’s important. It’s our job to bring you what is new.
Do you know the difference between “important” and “newsworthy”?
I ask because I’ve often heard people say that such-and-such a thing couldn’t be going on because it hasn’t been in the news. The “new” in “news” is the operative word here. Plenty of things are extremely important, but not necessarily newsworthy.
Take the nuclear meltdown in Japan. It’s darned important and still ongoing, but outside Japan, is it still newsworthy? Not really, except when something new to report comes along. “Situation still bad in Japan” is not a particularly good headline.
The same is true of children starving in parts of Africa. The babies are still dying in their mothers’ arms. People are still sick and hungry in the refugee camps. However, “Children continue to starve, just as they have for some time” is not a good headline, either.
Years ago, as a new mother, I mentioned in an online parenting chatroom that I didn’t purchase a certain brand because of that company’s contribution to the deaths of babies in the developing world. The company gives mothers there a month’s worth of free formula. By the time the freebies run out, the mother’s milk has dried up, and the mothers struggle to feed their babies. Millions die who would have lived if their mothers had nursed them from the start.
“I don’t believe that,” another mom said. “It would be in the news if it were true.”
I couldn’t convince her that neither the front page of her local paper nor the nightly news keeps an ongoing tally of all the things that are wrong in the world.
Before 9/11, many of the biggest international stories were datelined in or near Israel. Now, the biggest international news is more likely to be taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan, with occasional forays into any country with a big earthquake or flood, or (presently) a financial crisis. Did the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians settle down? Not exactly, and there are still stories coming out of that part of the world. But not to the same degree.
In case you’re wondering, Haiti is still feeling the effects of its January 2010 earthquake. Haitians continue to suffer and need help. But there’s really nothing “new” going on there.
As for murderous tyrants, a lot of people seem to believe Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi were the worst of the worst because they were the ones in the headlines. Actually, there are plenty of dictators still in power who can match them atrocity for atrocity. But we tend to ignore tyrants unless they’re doing something like coming between us and oil. So they continue on, torturing and robbing their people as they please.
People often believe the news media is biased in favor of whatever point of view the complainer doesn’t share. We had tea party folks screaming at us for not covering tea party events that were taking place outside our coverage area. While we haven’t had any sort of Occupy events to cover anywhere near our coverage area, I heard complaints that we didn’t give enough ink to the national events.
Ask people who work in any state capital, and they’ll tell you protests there are a dime a dozen. Yet, people involved in such protests are completely unaware that their event is rather routine. When they don’t see it picked up as a major news story, they’re sure it’s evidence of some kind of conspiracy. But it isn’t.
The same sort of thing happens with happier stories. At one time, the successful birth of multiples was automatically newsworthy. Nowadays, however, a woman has to have eight babies at once in order to get any attention. (And, incidentally, the Octomom drama is continuing to unfold, too. Thank God it’s dropped out of the headlines for now, though).
The old saying is that “Dog bites man” isn’t newsworthy but “Man bites dog” is. That’s true, even though it’s likely that the first one is more important.
Just remember that the next time you think the media doesn’t understand what is really important. Oh, we do. But it’s not our job to tell you what’s important. It’s our job to bring you the news.
Editor Michelle Teheux may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.