The story is meant to be a laugh, right there next to “Fla. Man Punches Shark in the Face, Snaps Photo” and the slightly more straightforward “Playboy Model Detained After Allegedly Trying to Open Plane Door Mid-Flight.”
This one starts, “A Norwegian radio journalist quit on the air after complaining about her job and saying she wouldn’t read the day’s news because ‘nothing important has happened anyway,'” and the rest of it writes itself.
So it’s a laugh. It’s a woman quitting her job in the craziest way possible — a newsman denying the existence of news — and maybe she’s worthy of being sandwiched between shark-punchers and gravity-unaware Playboy models. But any journalist worth his/her reporter’s notebook knows what she’s getting at. We’re coming to a point in our society where we need to ask a question that we should have asked a long time ago:
What is news?
I read a news feed each day — on Facebook. Is that news? I see a ticker of headlines on the bottom of CNN. Is that news? I have headlines and links arriving onto my desktop via my Twitter feed. Is that news? I check the front page of washingtonpost.com each morning. Is the stuff on there news?
What’s happened is, in the last 100 years — better yet, in the last 20! The last 5! — we’ve gone from a finite number of media outlets to an infinite number. On the web, we’ve got infinite space for news. We’ve got 24-hour news networks, and they need something to fill that time. We’ve got websites that need a constant F5-Refresh. The authoritative read on the matter is Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” but the short version is: when we created daily news outlets, we gave consumers a promise: we would deliver them the day’s news. But that means that every day, some form of news has to happen that’s worth delivering. So we’re filling it with what the Norwegian radio reporter probably considers “news”: news of incident, accident or occasion.
On the day she quit, the Norwegian reporter probably looked at the stories she’d been asked to read on air — Man punches shark! Playboy model attempts to open door mid-flight! — and asked, What the hell is this? Is this news?
But what I really wish she’d done is gone on air is asked, What is news anymore? What matters to you?
And if we’re not giving it to you, then why are you still listening?