Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

I used to think that I recognized what news is. After all, I spent most of my working life in the news business. I don’t mean to say that I could define news. I wasn’t sure that I could. But like the jurist who wasn’t sure that he could define obscenity, I knew it when I saw it.

Now, however, I seem to be losing my eye for news. Increasingly, I fail to recognize it in the reports the media offer.

I always assumed, for example, that news is, you know, new. Apparently it doesn’t have to be. Recently, the media reported that if we drink moderately, or modestly, we tend to be healthier than if we drink excessively or abstain. I’ve lost track of the number of times they’ve told me that. I didn’t realize it was still news. I thought it was history, or advertising.

I also assumed that news focuses on the unexpected or the unusual. I never dreamt that it might focus on the obvious. So you can imagine my surprise when the media told me that a reporter who got shot covering an insurrection was glad to be alive.

If I had been assigned to the story, I would have missed it. I was so journalistically naïve I thought everyone who escaped death was glad to be alive. But I would have considered it newsworthy if the reporter was sad to be alive or, had his injuries proved fatal, glad to be dead.

It shows you how far out of touch I am with current journalistic theory and practice. I’d consider going back to journalism school to update my qualifications, but since I didn’t go in the first place I can’t very well return. I learned my trade slaving in a newsroom that no longer exists.

Maybe I could take a few refresher courses somewhere. If so, I’d ask the instructor whether only the good die violently. I’m curious, because media interviews about death by murder, accident, or armed combat increasingly reveal that the victims were paragons of virtue. You’d think that at least a few scoundrels would suffer similar fates, but apparently not.

If I were still chasing news, I’d omit the eulogies unless I could get a second opinion. The real story, in my judgment, is the consistent and uncontested virtue, which is extraordinary, not the violent deaths, which are quite common. But that just shows how far behind the times I am.

As you can see, it’s not only my eye for news that’s out of focus. My nose for news has lost the scent. I’d never be able sniff out the emotional angles of stories the way reporters do today. When something bad happens, they know instinctively the kind of questions to ask: How did you feel after the car crashed into your house? Can you describe your feelings when you found the snake in your mailbox? What does it feel like to be the father of a serial killer? Do you feel sorry for the teenager who stole your truck?

It’s a good thing I no longer have to make a living in news. My editors trained me to uncover facts, not feelings. I especially wouldn’t make it in TV news. In seeking interviews, TV reporters are strikingly adept at finding subjects who cry on camera when they’re sad. A few cry on camera when they’re happy. I wonder if the reporters carry some kind of tear gas.

When they can’t find anyone else, TV reporters are content to interview each other. The ones who are interviewed don’t just provide information. They also give opinions. I couldn’t do that. My editors trained me to report the truth, not comment on it. They said it had something to do being objective. Whether sad or happy, at least the reporters who are interviewed don’t cry.

But they laugh, which is understandable, because when reporters get together they like to joke around. That’s the way it was when I was in TV news. The only difference is we didn’t do it on camera. Our editors trained us to inform the viewers, not entertain them. It had something to do with being professional. I wonder if the telecasters carry some kind of laughing gas.

It’s not just the media that have changed since I was in the news business. We who read, watch and listen to what they report have also changed. In my day, they tried to cover things we considered important. Nowadays, many of us don’t consider anything important unless they cover it.