The Irredeemable Irrelevance of Modern News Reporting

News Magazines and Papers on a shelf.Written by: Steven Luo, 1st year Med-Sci
Photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” – Frank Zappa, American rock star

“Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton, English writer

At university, especially one so secluded as Western, it is easy to lose touch with the outside world. When your daily routine is to eat, study, and sleep, Israel-Palestine, Russia-Ukraine, Truth and Reconciliation, climate change, and world hunger recede into the untroubled waters of the unconscious mind. It’s the news’ job to rouse us from our stupor. Journalism can inspire empathy for the unfortunate, wonder at the extraordinary, outrage at the unjust, and hope at the beautiful. However, too often modern news fails its calling. Nothing conveys this point better than a review of some of the most insipid doggerel published in November.

The Washington Post: Saturday showed winter’s cold but autumn’s comfort. November 25, 2023, 8:22 pm.

This one is my favourite. It’s a 500-word article about the weather. Not about the weather over a week, or how the weather has been changing, but the weather of one single day. I’ll give the writer credit for coming up with this much. He gives a play-by-play of the movements of the winds, coming up with gems like:

“Much of what embellished Saturday, and made it seem so much warmer than winter, seemed to stem from the relative absence of clouds. That absence, and the blue clarity of the sky, appeared vital. They made it possible for the November sun, however attenuated its energies, to give us its radiant best. A relative lack of strong wind, and of chill blasts from our north, appeared to work in concert with the sun, abetting its thermal efforts.”

Ten out of ten for vocabulary. But how a writer can earnestly write such a nonsense piece, I can’t understand. He took five hundred words to say what I could’ve said in ten: “It was sunny and pleasant, although a bit chilly today.”

CTV News: B.C. Man ordered to repay $3800 after providing couple with ‘absolute garbage’ firewood. November 24, 2023, 8:00 pm.

Trial covers can be exciting. Depp vs. Heard, Pistorius, O.J. But does the author of this piece of thrilling investigative journalism really believe a civil suit over inferior-grade firewood worth less than two MacBooks is worth reporting?

CNN: Empty Bed Bath & Beyond stores are hot real estate. Here’s who’s moving in. November 25, 2023. 7:00 am.

I don’t care who’s moving in two houses down, but I certainly need to know who’ll be filling in stores I never shop at.

Quote of the Article: “We have a very strong real estate team that has a lot of experience dealing with retail bankruptcies,” Burlington CEO Michael O’Sullivan said. “Many of our most successful and productive stores today were once upon a time Circuit City, Toys R Us, Sports Authority, Linens ’N Things.”

I needed to know that. Thanks, Mike.

USA Today: Afraid of overspending on holiday gifts? Set a budget. We'll show you how. November 25, 2023, 6:03 am.

This article manages to turn holiday shopping into a mathematical art, a psychological study, and a moral problem. It really isn’t that deep. If you can’t afford something, don’t buy it.

MSNBC: Why Americans still have no idea who really killed Kennedy. November 22, 2023, 6:32 pm.

Surely, the lack of new developments in a sixty-year-old case doesn’t count as news?

News is supposed to be powerful. It’s supposed to relate the curious, expose injustice, and galvanize a people. Some of the most influential people in history have been journalists: Jean-Paul Marat, Karl Marx, and Frederick Douglass, among many others. Tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao recognized and feared the subversive power of writing, which is why anti-establishment journalism was nearly as risky as overt rebellion in their regimes. Modern news reporting has fallen far from its once-lofty purpose. At the very least, news should provoke thought. Instead, it deluges readers with useless factoids and dresses up the vapid as sensational. I guess that’s their job, but it is disheartening to see talented writers denigrate their art for the sake of a paycheque.

Maybe I’m being too judgmental. I can understand the temptation to churn out nonsense, especially when pressed against a deadline. Writing is a time-consuming process which requires energy and care. However, when writers’ livelihoods are dependent on the number of articles they churn out, the integrity of their writing is hard to preserve. The debasement of news reporting starts from the top of the media power chain, with bosses putting constant pressure on lower-level journalists to increase their output. 

Traditional news outlets have had to compete with the onslaught that is social media. This means producing more content. Not better content, just more. Flood those notifications. Crowd the front page. But in the process, the news is writing itself into obsolescence. No, that’s not quite right. It’s writing itself out of existence.

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