And Now We Bring You The Apocalypse!

Hey Folks — Look at this illuminating list of what constitutes “news,” at least according to the Minnesota Associated Press guidelines for reporters, as posted on the blog Business Insider and first reported by Libby Reinish on savethenews.org.

Note that train wrecks, airplane crashes and drownings are news, as are car crashes if there are “multiple victims or unusual circumstances.”

Fatal fires, exceptionally violent robberies, ice storms and damaging floods are also all “news,” while plain vanilla deaths are not.

That’s why it always seems like the world is coming to an end: Only the worst, creepiest, goriest stuff, as you well know,  makes it to the airwaves (with an occasional saved kitten thrown in). What’s interesting is that this “news” isn’t new at all. It is Kabuki — an elaborate ritual. Far from new and surprising, it MUST conform to a template and here it is! Laid out for us by the Associated Press folks in Minnesota! As we can see, the job of a “news” story is to constantly re-confirm the media’s contention that the world is a terrible, mean, scary place (except, again, for the kittens). It’s like Groundhog Day, without the feel-good ending.

So here’s an idea: Let’s stop calling it news and start calling it what it is: Same Old Apocalypse. “What’s on TV?” ” SOA.” “Turn it off.”   — Lenore

38 Responses

  1. Helps explain why COPS has been on the small screen for the last 20 years –maybe even longer. It reminds of a song called “Vicarious” by the L.A.-based rock band Tool. You may not like the beat, but here I leave you part of the lyrics so you may ponder.

    Eye on the TV
    ’cause tragedy thrills me
    Whatever flavour
    It happens to be like;
    Killed by the husband
    Drowned by the ocean
    Shot by his own son
    She used the poison in his tea
    And kissed him goodbye
    That’s my kind of story
    It’s no fun ’til someone dies

    Don’t look at me like
    I am a monster
    Frown out your one face
    But with the other
    Stare like a junkie
    Into the TV
    Stare like a zombie
    While the mother
    Holds her child
    Watches him die
    Hands to the sky crying
    Why, oh why?
    ’cause I need to watch things die
    From a distance

    ….

    We won’t give pause until the blood is flowing
    Neither the brave nor bold
    The writers of stories sold
    We won’t give pause until the blood is flowing

  2. Well, that’s what news is, that’s what’s news is supposed to be. Unusual stuff.

    The problem isn’t in what’s included in the news, the problem is people who confuse newsmaking events with what happens most of the time to most people in everyday life.

  3. The AP is a national service so they should be reporting unusual events. The problem with most newspapers is that they use only AP stories. There are no local reporters anymore who would cover Granny’s quilting club or the local fair. If you still get the daily newspaper, look at the by-lines and see where the stories are coming from.

  4. I always thought the news was for the extraordinary. If it’s common occurance, why mention it?

    Aka, it’s highly unlikely walking outside will get me killed.

  5. Just remember that oft-quoted mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads”. However, I have chosen to give network news (meaning the local stations) the cold shoulder. I view it as ‘news you can’t use’. And we wonder why people get so wigged out about everything these days! (I prefer to surf various sources on the net, although I do watch CNN/MSNBC/some BBC, and the hated FoxNews, if only to see what those on that side of the fence are up to…)

  6. The problem is that we, as human species, are morbidly attracted by castrophic and dreadful events. It’s an evolutionary trait, we try to exorcize our most primordial fears by looking at them from a safe place, happy not to be the protagonist of the story. And obviously the media use that to earn as much as they can.
    But we are also sentient beings, so we can decide not to indulge in that greed for horror. And remember that Evil boasts while Good works unseen, so don’t lose hope.

  7. Fantastic. Wipeout zone describing our world better than the news

  8. Oh, Lenore. Thank you. And people think I’m being escapist and shallow because I don’t watch the news…

    If we turned off the TV and put down the sensationalist papers and instead opted to have coffee with our neighbors and friends, we’d find out what truly matters.

  9. Great post Lenore. Two thoughts to readers:

    1) Read Marshall McLuhan – The Medium is the Message.

    2) Read the first half of Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky.

    Once you see the media as a machine (mechanical, cookie cutter, unstoppable) you’ll understand what’s going on.

    On the one hand, we show lament when a huge percentage of the population doesn’t know about current events. On the other hand, keeping track of current events sucks you into the fear spiral.

    Personally, I stopped watching years ago.

  10. Unfortunately, these papers and tv news programs have to make money just like everyone else and they’ve found the best way to do so is to cater to our lowest common denominator. We SAY we want a more broad, diverse version of the news, but we are the United States of Entertainment. If we the people didn’t watch, they wouldn’t air it.

  11. I havent watched the news in about 4 years. My mother tells me things I sometimes didnt know… and I say I dont watch the news.. and she is all like.. well what if something happens, you missed that you had to do this etc… i say well I find out from othe rpeople like you . lol.

    If someone could just do nice, or humourous news with a little catastrophe thrown in.. that would be better

  12. I agree that the news is for unusual occurrences, but see too many of them and it’s easy to think of them as “usual”. Better to turn it off before we get hysterical. I continue to strongly endorse the “go meet your neighbours” routine as a good way to make one’s own neighbourhood safer. It’s sad how out-of-the-ordinary it has become to have a conversation over the fence with the next-door neighbour.

  13. SOA, same old apocalypse. I like that a lot.

    Me: we moved to the boonies & I’ve never bothered to get satellite TV (got satellite Internet though). We watch DVD movies etc & read news online, do pick up SOME selected highlights online.

    Believe me, we know the relevant news at any given time, but without the drama & hoopla of the somber newscasters making it sound dark to appeal to your emotions, I’m free of hysteria.

    When there was a tornado warning they called to tell us–we already knew. When there was a fire in a large city 20 miles from our place, we knew. When the Haiti quakes hit, when Michael Jackson died–we knew right away.

    But, again, without the newscaster’s tone & somber voice making it sound so scary, I’m free of the fear. I can’t imagine living the old “OMG!!!” way ever again.

  14. What reporter needs to be told that airplane crashes and train wrecks are news?

  15. a few years ago there were two teen girls found murdered in my area. They were two of five (?) murders of women that involved body dumping that year. The first girl wasn’t even reported missing by her family even though she was missing for over 4 days- they had to run a sketch of her face on the news and a friend’s mom called it in. She was in middle school! She was a kid who was murdered and whose body was burnt disposed of in a local park. She deserved to have her story told. As did the 16 year old young mother found dumped in a river 9 months later. I don’t believe either case has been solved.

    The news made absolutely no effort to cover either crime, nor the murders of the 3 other women, but were more than happy to incessantly cover Stacy Peterson and Lisa Stebic, who went missing nearby. It is disgusting.

  16. Here are the two best Youtubes on the subject.

  17. How many people will die in Afghanistan because of the media’s “fair and balanced” reporting of the plan by the idiot Terry Jones’s threat to burn the Quran? They just couldn’t leave it alone.
    People like him scare me as much, if not more, than Osama bin Laden’s people, mainly because they’re already here and they somehow believe they are directed by God.

  18. It’s still news. What needs to happen though, is the people listening should take it as such…news…information…even something that can be used for discussion at the water cooler, or dinner table. But what IT SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS is a manual, something to judge the everyone and everything by, that the sad and tragic things happened to an unfortunate person or people, but doesn’t mean that it will happen to everyone else all the time.

    Just like the popular example given here; we read and see car collisions everyday, and some are fatal. But the vast majority of us aren’t swayed from ever driving again. How is this news any different from any other news. It isn’t. It’s just how each individual sees and let’s it affect them and their family. So it’s not the news, the reporter or even the station, it’s the people who view them.

  19. I dedicate this to Mary Duval, who’s juvenile son ended up on the sex offender registry for teen consensual sex for LIFE. Mary went blind shortly after that but fought with every fiber of her being and won!

    Today, Mary fights for human and civil rights for all Americans. She is CEO of SOSENdotorg and has done CNN, Fox, and many other TV appearances. She is an amazing woman.

    P.S. Lonore, your the best!

  20. Network news was only 15 minutes a night until 1963 and has grown in length of time to 24 hours. But the amount of content seen during those 24 hours probably totals only 45 minutes after you take out commercials, sports and weather repeated over and over.
    If news is reporting unusual things that don’t normally happen then isn’t reporting that the news exaggerate the dangers of the world more newsworthy than what is on the newscasts?

  21. @Dot: You’d think. But deep down inside EVERYONE has this desire to see, or at least be curious, of other’s misfortunes. In it’s self is neither good or bad, it’s how we deal or react to such things that determines that. For example, about 100% of the time, at least one or two people (while driving) will slow down on the highway to observe a collision. Never keeping in mind, that the reason for that collision was most likely due to one or both drivers involved wasn’t paying attention. So these observers are potentially putting themselves and others in danger by taking their eyes off the road. Why? Because of that curiosity. In terms of the people who let the news pretty much run their lives, it’s like a drug to them.

    Studies show anger triggers chemicals in our brain that mimics that of a high from heroine. That in essence, anger is an addictive drug/emotion. It’s quite possible that fear is as well. Hence why some people have a hard time letting go of it.

  22. I don’t know, Dot. I like seeing my weather report every ten minutes. It’s important to know whether there will be weather, no matter what the weather will be : )

    What irks me is politics. It’s all “who’s ahead” and “how will this speech affect the polls” – forget that! Tell me what happened that is of national or international importance, and I can figure out where I stand. I don’t care about that high school garbage that passes for “issues” in the US.

  23. And the reason why the media likes to portray the world as a terrible, mean, scary place is that it makes the fake world portrayed by the commercials look so much better. Yes YOU TOO can buy your way out of despair and terror!

  24. I no longer watch the news. I listen to public radio to keep up to date with local politics and large-scale world issues. I scan through online headlines of my local newspaper’s website, but I am a very critical news consumer. My personal hate is the headlines that frame the victims and delete the perpetrators: “Girl assaulted while listening to her ipod.” Those pesky ipods are clearly HIGH RISK. Those silly girls OUGHT TO BE AT HOME.

  25. […] by owen59 on September 13, 2010 Lenore Skenazy calls it SOA – Same Old Apocalypse – but Minneapolis Associated Press call it news. […]

  26. Scanning over the posts, I see many people here think that the AP consider all these catastrophies news just because they’re “unusual” or “exceptional”.
    I have to disagree. Traditionally, news was the “man bites dog” headline, as opposed to “dog bites man”.
    However, I don’t know what’s come over newsies lately that “dog bites man” becomes a headline as long as there’s enough blood splattered over the sidewalk.
    Disgusting.

  27. Being on a computer that doesn’t allow full access to this page, I can’t find a way to Contact someone, but I read this article and thought of you immediately…perhaps you can use it.

    Thanks!
    Deborah🙂

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1311556/Father-slams-council-bosses-threatening-action-walking-daughter-school-bus-stop-20m-away.html#

  28. This is exactly why I haven’t watched television news for years. I listen to NPR and my local talk radio station, so I know what’s going on in the world, but somehow it is easier for me to maintain perspective when I am not being bombarded by images of death, despair and tragedy.

  29. Growing up, I always thought “news” was about boring adult stuff: the shennanigans at city hall, political corruption, business, education – things that made a child yawn and yearn for “The Waltons” (dating myself here). Now that I’m an adult, I wish the “news” actually covered those things that once bored me so. Instead, it’s like a bad Saturday morning cartoon that pretends to be “educational”. The last time I watched the “news” was when the Columbine tragedy occurred. I was nearly as appalled by the coverage of the event, as I was by the event itself.

  30. (a) Those are the things that get the attention of the AP news wire – are printed in locations outside of the immediate area – and not a basis for what is news locally. We have many articles printed in our local paper that do not fit in those categories and, as a result, are not picked up on the AP wire. That is how it should be. The vast majority of things that occur in in anytown USA should NOT be of interest to the AP newswire, however, if something of a national interest occurs (say a plane crashes), it should be reported nationally.

    (b) THOSE THINGS ARE NEWS!!!!!!! As good as it may make us all feel, I don’t want a newscast full of cute puppies and kittens. That’s what the Animal Channel is for. I want to know what’s going on the the local area, nation and world. The problem isn’t that the news reports news. The problem is the complete overreaction to said news. The reaction to the news needs to change, not the fact that the news is reporting news.

    For example, if a child is kidnapped, it is news. It’s something that we want to get out there on the outside chance that someone will see that child and get him or her back home (yes, a former coworker of mine actually saw an abducted kid in her store and called the police and the kid was return to her mother – custody issue, not stranger). Putting the story on the 6 o’clock news is right, however, the public reaction to the report is wrong. We do not need to lock our children in the house because one was kidnapped. We need to view the news as what it is – an unusual occurrence – and not something that we are at risk for every second of every day. As a matter of fact, those things that are not considered news are so beause they DO happen more regularly.

    The one issue with the news itself is the beating of a dead horse mentality. Once the initial crisis is past, we don’t need to keep rehashing it. We did not need to hear about Nathalie Holloway for months and months and months with no new information.

  31. I’m jealous of everybody who said they haven’t watched the news in years. If it were up to me, I’d get all my news from Google News, Fark, and a couple blogs that feature weird/geeky news. Unfortunately my job requires us to have the news on all day, every week day just in case something big happens. On the average day, every story repeats on a 1-2 hour cycle, rather than covering more topics or updating only when there’s new information.

    Meanwhile if I see a ton of emergency vehicles going someplace or an accident that looks ugly, I’ll never find out what happened because there’s so little local news coverage! Unless an entire block of townhouses catches fire, it’s too small to bother sending reporters out.

  32. @ Nicole – I don’t know of the situation that you mention, but I have 2 (uncomfortable, but unfortunately relevant) questions about the victims in these crimes:

    1. Were they cute or attractive?
    2. Were they ethnic minorities?

    Both of these factors govern the amount of coverage a missing child or woman gets. It’s disgusting but true. And since the news media plays what gets good ratings, we have only ourselves to blame.

  33. I’m with those who say news is news because it’s novel. “99% of humanity went about their lives without incident today” isn’t news, and it would quickly become ridiculous if news programs made such statements as a matter of routine.

    Perhaps news agencies could make an effort to point out that the news items on which they report are unusual and not the order of the day, but maybe they figured calling it “news” ought to cover it.

  34. Maybe I can thank my “no-TV” early childhood for being so “trusting” of the world that I allow my children to experience it

  35. Same sh*t, different day, right? I’d love to know what’s going on in the world, but that just isn’t in the cards. I don’t even watch the news or most TV these days.

  36. Brian J. beat me to it; I was going to ask the same question of Nicole. The more the victims resemble the news dept. management (or the families of management) the more likely they are to receive extensive coverage. Even if they’re of the Caucasian persuasion, if they lived in a trailer park, they “lose points” compared to residents of an affluent suburb.

  37. Having grown up fascinated by, and on the fringes of, the print media business (my uncle was Metro editor of a daily in Florida, my best friend’s father was the publisher of our hometown weekly, I was editor of the high school paper, etc.) it’s really sad to see what has happened to a once-great business. I wound up spending several years writing for several weekly papers (urban affairs, music critic, a fun gig as a restaurant critic) but as a friend of mine says about print media “at least the Titanic had champagne and a dance band.” An old editor of mine traces this sad decline back to Watergate, when a “craft” where the Edna Buchannans and Jimmy Breslins could start out (with a strong-English h.s. diploma) in the mailroom became a “profession” where everyone wanted to be the next Brooks Brothers-clad Woodward and the newsroom became the territory of educated, unexpereinced suburban callow youths. Frankly, most of the journalists I know today are the black sheep of educated, professional families – “My sister is a doctor, my brother is a lawyer, I’m the C student whose parents made him go to college so I wound up being a reporter because I’m too lazy to teach.” In spite of this, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the incredible arrogance of those who required four years of college to learn how to use a semicolon.

    Market consolidation, vertical integration, the internet… all these have played a role. But the trend for newspapers to become a day-care center for the children of the connected is the real evil – as the old saying goes about laws and sausages, if you love the news you never want to attend a Monday morning editors/ reporters meeting. And if you want to make sure you never attend another one, go in with a “smoking gun” tip on a scandal that involves one of the publisher’s country-club golf buddies.

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