Not Fit to Print

I listen to WGBH and Morning Edition on my morning drives from Groton into work. I follow the New York Times and Boston Globe. I like to think that I am somewhat tuned in to what’s going on around me.  So when I took a New Yorker online “think you know the news quiz,” I scored 8 out of 12, clearly misinformed. Try it and see how you do!

In my defense, I did get the question right about some member of the Palin family who had a new baby–I guessed correctly. I knew about the polygamist convicted of sexually assaulting two young teenaged girls; and knew what the British PM had to say about the riots. What struck me as I took the quiz: we’re in a sad state of news affairs. There was a nod to the debt crisis, but also something about a Star Trek theme park somewhere in the Arab world. Oh, and that gang of three Florida misfits on the run.

Since I started my writing life as a journalist, I am always hoping for those stories that sing Pulitzer. Stories that spin a whole new way to look at the world. Instead, I find the same old politics, spiced up with occasional celebrities and sex–and sometimes all three in the same story.

When I took journalism 101 a lifetime ago at UCONN, journalism professor John Breen handed out a different kind of news quiz the first week of class. It was a standard in his teaching routine. The questions then had to do with things like: the current country of _____ was formally known as _____ (fill in a central European or African country of your choice because I’ve long forgotten what was on the quiz). That kind of thing. The journalism department often shared the results with the media, making for amusing reading. There was always some student who would, for instance, choose Zorro as the correct name for a Latin American ruler.

Despite the embarrassment, the quiz taught us that there were important things going on in the world and we damn well better know about them if we wanted to write news. (nod to the great Mr. Breen)

Thank you New Yorker for reminding us to keep up with the news. I just wish the news had more relevance to my life. Thank heavens for the local and hyperlocal reporting that’s going on these days. From the Patch babies springing up  across the country courtesy of AOL to our The Groton Line in my home town, we can find small picture news, but it’s real.

For all those journalists who are working with heavy loads and fewer resources–thank you for hanging in there. Now, if our major media could staff up again from all the downsizing and get focused on what really matters — maybe the news would be fit to print.

4 thoughts on “Not Fit to Print

  1. Alice, I was mad crazy about Peter Jennings and when he was gone, too young too early, I started losing interest in nighttime news. I still tune in enough to get (over)saturated!

  2. I’m with you on the no-news vacation—though we do get the Sunday Times and strew it about the front porch of our beach house. No TV, no radio. It’s blessed zone out!

  3. Hi Betsy,
    What’s interesting to me is how the media have changed. My husband Terry bought and faithfully read two newspapers in Maine every day, as well as the three weekly rags that report on local news on Mount Desert Island. I used to enjoy these as well, but this year I decided to ignore the news for two weeks as best I could. Of course, I relied on AOL and MSNBC and other online news sources for headlines. There is a richness missing, however, when you don’t delve into it deeply.

  4. betsy! how true! i took the quiz and yikes…..not good. i stopped watching the news a few years ago and tune in now only on a “need-to-know” basis. this leaves me in the dark much of the time, but sometimes i would prefer that to knowing some of the stories that are now considered news (worthy). my new favorite news source: the groton line.

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