Must the News Be New? -- a modest journalistic proposal

It is a commonplace that, in order to boost circulation, the (so-called?) news media tend to emphasize cloud-pleasing stories which – given human nature? – tend to the violent and seamy. It has been suggested that an appropriate response would be to balance this reporting with positive news as well. As German economist Max Roser put it (here I am quoting from an article ["The Big Question," by Joshua Rothman, July 23, 2018, p. 27] that quotes a book [Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now] that cites Roser), a truly evenhanded newspaper “could have run the headline NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY every day for the last twenty-five years."

However, I think this does not really redress the imbalance because even the bad news is distorted … and not nearly bad enough! So let me make a modest journalistic proposal (although this could also serve as a personal philosophical or ethical exercise): Each day (perhaps one week later in retrospect to allow for facts to develop and for some reflection first) select what seems (to the editor or to you or to whomever) to be the worst and the best news story of that day.

The basic idea is that in the new global village there is guaranteed to be something really awful and something really wonderful we could learn about every single day. Actually of course many things ... and different assessments (including opposite ones) by different people. So there need not be a single version of this blog or column or whatever form it takes. Everybody (who is sufficiently informed) could do their own. And then may the best blog win (judged by the readership, critics, oneself, Republicans, Democrats, whomever ... so of course there would be many blogs having the title "best" as well), but there could also be several favorites for anyone.

The point is twofold. On one hand, to make sure bad news, which is artificially emphasized by the media, is put into some balance with good. On other, to make sure the kind of bad and good news the media love is sidestepped in favor of more objectively chosen news items. (Of course even that "point" represents a subjective valuation of mine -- doubly so, in fact: as regards valuing objectivity, and as regards what counts as objective.)

It will also turn out that what is (the best or worst) news each day might not be new. Thus, somewhat mirroring Roser, I could see simply running the headline (that is, featuring as the worst news) BILLIONS OF INNOCENT SENTIENT BEINGS NEEDLESSLY CONFINED, TORTURED, AND SLAUGHTERED every day forever. 

But this does bring us to a point of paradox, namely, that what is most newsworthy may violate the very essence of what its name implies, and surely a basic human requirement – novelty. It is really no news that what is not new is not news at all. Ergo …? Don’t look to the news to find out what’s going on!


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