Keep in mind that this is from the same guy who for some reason will not run the weeks-old story about two Burbank elected officials suddenly deciding to quit their jobs:
I decided to ask a deceptively easy question.
“What is news?” I asked the Glendale Community College class. “For instance, Kim Kardashian announced she’d like to be mayor of Glendale. Is that news?”
“NO!” came the cry from the majority of the class. “It’s a waste of time! A waste of space!”
“Of course it’s news,” I replied. “It’s interesting.”
Gary Montecuollo, GCC’s police chief, teaches the community relations class. The larger goal, he said, is to show how different parts of our city interact and interrelate. Since one of those cogs, so to speak, is the media, he asked me to come and talk about my job.
At first, I wasn’t really sure what to talk about. Fortunately, Ms. Kardashian did me a solid. Despite the students’ insistence that her political aspirations are of no interest, our paper’s Web traffic has spiked.
No comment. What can you possible say about something this inane?
This, in turn, highlighted the tensions journalists often face: to inform but also entertain, to expose wrongdoing without being gossipy, and to balance between the important and the interesting.
“Do you know what makes something newsworthy?” I asked the class.
Silence. To be fair, I think I threw them off with the Kardashian question.
“In general, something is newsworthy because a news outlet broadcasts or publishes it,” I said. “In general, because we say it is.”
It sounds a bit recursive, I’ll admit. But it is also true, and underscores the need for reflection and, often, self-restraint on the part of journalists. Sometimes the subjects of news stories would prefer we not write about them; other times they essentially beg for coverage.
And sometimes a story has so much importance, it must be printed despite whatever shame or embarrassment it causes. Other times, printing a small truth can hide a bigger lie, and journalists have to ensure they aren’t being played by their sources.
Apparently to these people you need to have a victory in court several times before you’ll get much coverage. And even then there’s a lot of handwringing. Because you just don’t want to go too far with things, do you?
BTW, the kids show a lot more sense, don’t they?
Now here’s a fun one:
To exemplify this, I asked the class to break into several small groups. I gave them an ethical quandary — one this paper faced — and asked them what they would do.
Here’s the dilemma: You discover that a woman has fallen from the top of a hotel downtown. Though it happened after midnight, a number of people witnessed the fall, and police are investigating it as a possible suicide.
Though police decline to say much of anything, you find the night manager of the hotel. The manager asks not to be quoted, but gives you the name of the woman and tells you that she requested “the highest floor available.”
With this information, I asked the class, what details to you choose to print, or do you print anything at all?
The debate was loud and spirited. Though many of the members of the class would have printed everything — including the name — a few decided it would be best to not print anything at all.
(What the paper did do, by the way, was to print a small story, a brief, stating that a woman had fallen from a hotel room, and that the matter was being investigated as a suicide. We did not name the woman or write any follow-up stories.)
Now which other local blogger was it that tried to get the name of this jumper as well, only to be refused by the BPD?
That was a red flag right there. When something like this happens it’s obvious that both the newspaper and the city are covering for the identity of the victim. So Evans can be as phony-pious as he wants to be, but his paper’s refusal to identify the jumper had nothing to do with “ethics” but everything to do with protecting other people.
Because suicide is the ultimate “fuck-you,” anyone doing it this way would have wanted to promote the hell out of it. So they weren’t doing her the favor.
Now if Kim Kardashian had jumped off the Holiday Inn instead, that would have been news.