Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

News That Isn't

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

Media has the power to show us things we've never seen before, bring us to places we've never been before, and reveal to us things which we did not know before. That's one of media's strengths.

However, I am constantly amazed by the practice of reporting as news that which is not news, showing or telling us things that anybody with a room temperature IQ should already know.

Ever been watching TV when the local weatherman breaks in with a commercial for his own weather forecast on the station you're already watching? "Hi. There's a tornado in Springfield and a glacier approaching from the north. Will they affect our weather tomorrow? Stay tuned to the weather at 11 and find out!"

He did not need to tell me that the nightly news will include a weather report. Local news shows have included weather reports since the dawn of time. And he similarly did not need to tell me that I should be watching his particular station in order to see him deliver the weather, considering that I was already tuned in. He could have told me the weather, but no! He told me merely when he was going to tell me the weather.

This I do not need to know. It is not news to me.

The United States government recently "lost" some nuclear secrets out at Los Alamos. Frankly, given the way our government seems to handle top secret documents, I'm not really sure that this itself qualifies as news, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt. I am then breathlessly told that the suspect computer disks were found behind an office copying machine in "Area X." Even the name of the room (sadly) does not surprise me. The government suspects sloppiness in the way these disks were handled.

Really? No kidding, Sherlock? What a revelation! Now that's news!

In Boston, they've uncovered graft and corruption in the Big Dig Project, the largest public works project in the history of mankind. Now this qualifies as actual news! A public works project in Boston, Massachusetts with corruption? Stop the presses! Wait! Here's another bulletin! There are large cost over-runs on the project!

I'm sorry if I sound cranky. I'm just tired of getting told stuff I already know, that's all.

I mean, it ranks right up there with local officials promising that the Town of Billerica Web page - under construction for years now - will up and running "very soon." We can believe them this year, it is reported, because they've recruited a couple of students to help them construct it.


Remember that big Texas A&M bonfire collapse last year that killed twelve kids? Well, guess what? The college has decided to drop this grand tradition - but only until the public forgets the incident. They've canceled the bonfire for this year and next year. That ought to be enough time! They hope to go back to the cherished ceremonial burning of logs to garner team spirit in 2002. That Texans burn logs to win football games is not news.

And even that the boneheads in Texas plan to continue this ritual despite the deaths of a dozen kids does not come as surprise to me. Does it to you?

The Boston Red Sox announced last week that they may be hiking ticket prices so that they can afford to build a new ball park or hire home run hitter Sammy Sosa. Well, DUH! Stay tuned for breaking news reporting that the earth revolves around the sun!

By definition, you see, it's not news when people act in predictable ways. It's news when they don't.

You know that stupid TV show "Survivor" on CBS? It's a big hit. Apparently, folks sitting in their living rooms like to see other people struggling to stay alive and win big bucks. Anyway, in this week's episode, the producers of the show required the participants to catch, kill, skin, cook, and eat rats in order to survive. Monkeys and lizards were off limits as food. It had to be rats. Producers of a TV program asking game show participants to do something disgusting? Whoa! Groundbreaking TV here!

But that's not all. Care to guess what PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had to say about this? Did they applaud the killing of rats? Congratulate the castaways on their recipes? Nope. They demonstrated outside the CBS office last week (one protester dressed in a giant rat suit). They called what the castaways did "disgusting," asserting (and I quote) that "Rats have rights." That the PETA people took this stand does not come as news to me, either. Frankly, I'd be more interested in why a costume company would create a giant rat suit and how often it's rented out!

I don't mean to sound like a curmudgeon, and no, this is not my impression of Andy Rooney.

Not only do I not know everything in the world, but I also like to think that I don't act as though I do. I'm eager and willing to learn new stuff, be exposed to new ideas, and hear new news. Frankly, there is so much stuff that I do not know that I don't have time to waste being told stuff that's obvious, that's all.

And this is my plea for it to stop.

Yes, I'm fully aware that my plea will no doubt fall on deaf ears. That's not news, either.