Where The “News” Is

     If you labor in the news media, your principal need is news: i.e., things to talk about in your newspaper / radio program / television program / website. What will matter to you above all, therefore, is where “news” can be found. That, it develops, is a giant part of the maladies of our time.

     You see, if we omit individuals’ triumphs and crimes and the disasters that time and chance inflict upon us, news is actually hard to come by. Moreover, those things hold only fleeting interest for persons not directly involved in them. But the Fourth Estate needs news to continue in business. Where, then, shall its minions look?

     Right! Capitals. Centers of political power. Places where the men we’ve elevated to public office, wisely or not, are known to cluster. They can produce news out of thin air, merely by speaking, or signing obscurely worded documents, or decreeing that armed men shall sally forth. Sometimes, the news is simply that one politico has met with another, or has held a “press conference.” The production of news becomes a collaborative event.

     When Robert A. Heinlein wrote:

     Most neuroses can be traced to the unhealthy habit of wallowing in the troubles of five billion strangers.

     …he had a fuzzy glimpse of an important truth. The strong emotions are every reporter’s targets. Engaging them is his mission; success brings “eyeballs.” But how is he to do this? Can he make his readers love, hate, sorrow, or fear?

     Eliciting fear is the easiest. So the reporter and his collaborators in public office – both of whom passionately want as many “eyeballs” as they can attract – will do their best to make people fearful. A nervous, perpetually anxious populace is a fertile source of readers and viewers for the reporter, and donors and supporters for the politician.


     A fairly odd intro for a Fran Porretto piece, eh? Well, I write about what’s uppermost in my thoughts, and sometimes that can be a few degrees off-plumb. But why else would you come here, Gentle Reader? You can get the vanilla stuff quite a lot of other places…if vanilla were the flavor you seek.

     I just had this speculation: If there were no prompt, wide-scale, long-distance media, how would our lives differ from today? Without the existing bombardment of ominous news and opinion from a multitude of sources – including the fulminations and decrees of politicians of every kind – would people be as jumpy and distracted as they are currently?

     Imagine if all the prompt news in your world were about what’s happened recently in your immediate neighborhood, rather than around the globe. Imagine if the self-important types in Washington, Albany, and so forth were unable to communicate with you in near-real-time. What would occupy your thoughts at those moments when you aren’t concerned with making a living, caring for your home, or looking after your family?

     If the propagation speed of information were limited to that of a man on horseback, there would be no news media as we know them, of course. There would also be no politicians or politics as we know (and suffer) them. The operations of contemporary government require the capacity to transmit orders in near-real-time to functionaries who would then implement the wills of legislators and executives near to immediately. Wars would be far rarer, and far smaller: on the order of the wars of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries, perhaps. Moreover, the great majority of people would never hear about them, much less be drawn into them.

     How exercised could anyone get over what’s happening today, if it were all about who bought the house on the next block, or which neighborhood kid just won a spelling bee, or who was caught sleeping with someone else’s spouse? Any news that might reach us from distant shores would also be distant in time: nothing to get our glands in a lather.

     Granted that it would be harder to make a living in the news media, but really: If we could have that degree of peace, would we care? The majority of those who want to report the news would have to seek other ways of earning a living. So what?

     This is a disturbing thing to contemplate. The price of that much domestic tranquility would be high, for me at least. I’d have to abandon my vocation as a writer of fiction. I’d also have to give up pontificating to a gaggle of faceless readers here on the World Wide Web. But if I could have an existence untroubled by the machinations of politicians or the quarrels of peoples in faraway places, would I care?

     Would you?


    • TRX on January 13, 2024 at 2:52 PM

    Imagine if all the prompt news in your world were about what’s happened recently in your immediate neighborhood, rather than around the globe.

    Like Nextdoor and the other “neighborhood social media”?


    Frankly, the toxic wasteland of neighborhood Mrs. Kravitzes and Karens makes ordinary mass media look pretty good.

    1. (chuckle) Well, okay, there’s something to that. But those people, despite their unpleasant ways, can’t drag you into wars, confiscate half your income, or tell you what color you have to paint your garage. Homeowners’ Associations excepted, of course.

Comments have been disabled.