I remember clearly where I first acquired my distaste for journalism. I must have been about eleven. The small town I lived in at that time happened to also be the home town of a famous movie actress. There was an article about her which went pretty much as follows: "To understand the wild and tempestuous ________ you must first understand the dull drab little mining town from whence she came. The tiny houses are covered with coal dust and there is not a tree in sight..."
As the nearest coal mine must have been an absolute minimum of 500 miles away, and as the town was nestled in a narrow valley entirely surrounded by heavily timbered mountains, even my child's mind could deduce the obvious.
I might have been willing to pass this off as an entirely idiosyncratic performance by an unprincipled reporter who, caught up in an illicit affair or something, just didn't take the time to do his or her research. Perhaps they just assumed that the hicks who lived in the dull drab little town didn't read. Or, if they did, they didn't read their particularly pretentious publication. However, not long after this disgraceful article appeared a local policeman was brutally murdered in the line of duty in our dull drab little town. As it was indeed a small town everyone knew the policeman and the particular circumstances in which he was found. Everyone, that is, except apparently the local reporter who wrote it up in the local daily paper. The crime was reported in such a way that the single connection with reality that could be found was that a policeman had, in fact, been murdered. It was an absolutely appalling performance for which I could see no excuse except that, perhaps, the reporter (quite likely the owner/editor) was an utter moron.
I haven't had much reason to change my opinion of journalism over the years even though at times they seem to have gone overboard the other direction, becoming more factual than is at all necessary. How else would one explain why we need be informed as to precisely what the first lady was wearing when she attended the ball game with the president? Or why need we be told for three days running exactly what the hostages in Iran had for breakfast? Or, for that matter, what the president himself had for breakfast? I cannot imagine why these tidbits of trivia should be considered important, or news at all for that matter. Nor can I imagine the mentality of the reporters who gather these monumentally insignificant items, granted that he or she must have been more quick witted than their peers to even think to ask such profound and all important questions. I guess a degree in journalism gives one an edge. This is not to overlook the recent in-depth coverage of our president's intestines (forgive the pun). I know more now about the president's bowels than I know about my own, virtually an inch by inch account repeated ad nauseum day after day, even hour after hour.
I really don't ask myself why anymore. I'm afraid I might find an answer. I guess what I like best about the current breed of newsperson is their uncanny gentility in the face of trauma. "How does it feel, Mrs. Smith," they ask, thrusting the microphone in front of her tearful face, "to see your child laying there with his legs cut off by the train? Does it make you sad? Tell the television audience exactly what you are feeling right now?" No doubt schools of journalism offer courses in interviewing that equip them with these special skills. Oh, I know. I know. It's really competitive out there in the news business and yes, of course, the news should be purely objective, and blah, blah, blah. I wonder if the news profession gives an annual award for the stupidest question of the year? The stupidest article? They should. They certainly compete for such prizes.
Once, when I lived for a time on the big island of Hawaii, I turned on the local radio news every morning. It was usually news of purely local interest, at the level of, "Auntie Sally's chicken got run over by Mrs. Wu's boy, Tommy." Things like that. Sometimes they had world news, sometimes not. I was startled one morning, however, to hear the announcer say, "There is no news today." Even though I marveled at the fact that apparently nothing at all had happened anywhere in the world for the past few hours I have to admit, I liked it.
Nowadays, of course, journalists only tell you what their corporate bosses want you to hear. It certainly hasn’t done much for their image. They’re worse than ever.