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Shock and Awe in 2007 News Biz

Posted by vmsalama on December 31, 2007

by Vivian Salama

 PostGlobal – WashingtonPost.com

As we begin 2008 and look back on the biggest stories that made headlines over the past year, I cannot help but ask a question that I, as a journalist, have recently come to dread: what qualifies as news, nowadays?

Stories that make news these days are not necessarily newsworthy, and vice versa. One of the factors which traditionally drove newsworthiness was significance. The number of people whom a story affects is important. Celebrities are easy targets and, dare I say it, they usually make for easy headlines. The fiasco surrounding Paris Hilton’s 23-day “traumatic” lock-up is just one painful example. For readers living overseas who did not have the pleasure of experiencing this media frenzy, many networks deployed their helicopters to film an aerial play-by-play of Hilton’s trip [in the back of a police cruiser] from her California mansion to the courthouse. Of course, there are other examples, including the meltdown of pop singer Britney Spears and the untimely death of former Playmate Anna Nicole Smith. Also, the Internet has complicated the question not only of what constitutes news, but also of who should legitimately and credibly deliver it. Viral videos have become such a sensation that their profound popularity often makes for headlines.

As for news – that is, the old fashioned kind – it is difficult to choose just one story that tops the list. Certainly the war in Iraq still rages on; however, death tolls have grown mind-numbing to the average reader/viewer, and the stories that make big headlines usually relate to war funding or government ineptitude. Also, similar to the December holidays, political campaigns begin earlier and earlier each year. The high stakes surrounding the 2008 presidential race dominated headlines early on in 2007. As for stories that made a significant impact domestically, I would include the tragic collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minnesota last August and the brutal Virginia Tech shooting in April (I was in North Korea the day this happened, a country notorious for being a “Hermit Kingdom.” My group knew nothing about the shooting spree until we returned to South Korea the next day. Incidentally, the gunman was an American of South Korean descent. The outpour of sympathy which we, as Americans, received from the Korean people was profound).

We live in a 24-hour news culture, where sometimes – I’m sorry to say – quantity often trumps quality with regard to coverage. This cultural shift first occurred in the days following the September 11th attacks, when the public was understandably hungry for every bit of information it could get. However, just as this country grew used to positioning itself in attack mode, so, too, have the news media – at the expense of in-depth, investigative journalism. The old expression, “if it bleeds, it leads” has taken on a whole new meaning. Nowadays, if it bleeds, gasps, heals, chokes, laughs, cries, sneezes or quivers, it’s on YouTube.

C’est la vie, I guess. Happy New Year, everyone.


One Response to “Shock and Awe in 2007 News Biz”

  1. A. said

    Help me out here….is it just possible that the Korean in Virginia went nuts when he found out that DNA tests ruled him out as the father of Anna Nicole’s baby?

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