Thursday, May 25, 2006

Textbook Examples

Every reporting textbook with which I am personally acquainted has a section on the so-called News Values, usually seven or eight in number, including things like timeliness (did it just happen?) and impact (does it matter?).

As I tell my students, these news values are descriptive, not prescriptive. They tell us what is out there in the news media, not what should be out there. If you don't like stories that feature conflict, don't put stories that feature conflict in your particular medium. Slap your audience sharply across the knuckles: No ice cream for you!

Of the items on the usual list of news values, the most elusive is currency, which does NOT mean the same as timeliness. Rather, it is something "in the air" that the reporter becomes aware of and calls to the public's attention, the grateful public responding with a hearty, "Yeah. I was thinking about that."

Two recent stories that illustrate this idea:

The first is today's front-page centerpiece in the SF Chronicle on the black community's reaction to Barry Bonds' suggestion that his blackness is a factor in the response to his overtaking of His Royal Whiteness Mr. Babe Ruth.

The second is the New York Times story from several days ago exploring the Hillary-Bill marriage, complete with an accounting of how many days -- and nights -- the two have spent together in recent months.

Some of my favorite progressive bloggers have raged against this story, suggesting its subtext is how often Bill is boinking Hillary -- or to put it another way how often Hillary is hauling Bill's ashes. (The "revenue neutral" characterization: How often are they knocking boots?)

Simple me did not get that implication when I read the story. But even if it is there -- "there" in the sense that many readers find it there intended or not -- I have no problem with such an implication and such a story. I could go into a long discussion of how the Clintons' relationship in all its nuances is an example of an "impact" story and how it will become an issue in the next Presidential campaign, news gatekeepers be damned.

But I won't. The story -- just like the Bonds story -- is an example of currency. On that basis alone, it is justified. People are interested. That makes it news. Better to pull these things out of the shadows of our semi-conscious into the light, so we can think about them more and feel about them less.


Anonymous said...

Did your jaw-scratching speculation about Bonds and his blackness keep you from researching whether the question arose when Hammerin' Hank passed the Babe's mark? Put another way, do you suffer from white guilt? Shelby Steele -- yes, we know, he's a Tom -- is entertaining on this question in his new book. Second question: a lot of people think Hillary had a rather rich lesbian past, which past allowed Bill a pass when it came to his bimbos. It is wrong for people to think like this. No one would disagree with that. But isn't that what the interest about their time together all about? I'll take your answer off the air.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

A young Republican like yourself wasn't around when the ring-around-the-Kleagle crowd hammered on Hank from the safe distance of a three-cent stamp.

Oh, how he hammered back.

I say to Barry: Get Whitey! But if you try to walk a mile in Henry Aaron's shoes, you'll have shoelaces tickling your chin. Now you, Baby Bubba, you could look it up, but don't let me see your lips move!

As for speculating about Hillary's possible pansexual past, that book's done come and gone, boy. That dog just didn't hunt.


B. Wieder said...

There is only an occasional and coincidental overlapping of what is news and what the public is interested in. The abysmal irrelevence of the public's interest has made The Enquirer second only to the US Mint in the production of greenbacks. Bad blogger; no cookie.

Anonymous said...

That hound dog hasn't begun to hunt, but I sense it leaving off licking its private parts and otherwise getting ready. As for the Klan, it's as dead as the cross of gold and all the media nostalgia in the world won't bring it back to life.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

If the public is interested in's news. Forget that and you're The Progressive Magazine. Embrace it to the exclusion of everything else, of course, and you're Entertainment Tonight.

Anonymous said...

Asking for honesty here. Would you rather read The Nation or Entertainment Weekly. The sap is already slapping the palm.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

The simple truth is that I would rather read The Nation than EW. Maybe it's my inherent superiority to hoi polloi or maybe it's the fact I associate EW with dentists' offices.

Anonymous said...

That lump on your skull will go down with the application of ice. Next question, would you rather read Marx or Austen?

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Because of wise investment practices over the years, plus habits of personal thrift, I own more than one book.

Anonymous said...

Answer the question, doc. I'd hate to see another shiny knob rise alongside the first.