I’ve been thinking lately about the value of what we consider news versus the value of journalism, which are not always the same thing. And then today’s New York Times comes along to provide more fodder.
Ask yourself this: Who is going to come away from today’s Times with a deeper, richer understanding of the human condition? Those who only read Dan Barry’s story on mentally disabled former poultry workers and Ron Suskind’s article on his autistic son? Or those who read all the news but who skipped those two articles?
The Barry article represents the perfect marriage between a great reporter with a wonderful eye for detail and a rich story about human beings at their best and their worst. It’s accompanied by a half-hour documentary video, which I intend to watch tonight. I haven’t read the Suskind piece yet, but Mrs. Media Nation recommends it highly, and I know Suskind’s work.* Yet neither Barry’s nor Suskind’s stories could be considered news.
What’s happening between Russia and Ukraine is important, of course, but if you skip today’s coverage you can always catch up tomorrow — or the next day. The apparent plane crash in Asia is horrifying, but it’s not particularly relevant to most people’s lives.
In fact, much of what we consider news is tied to the industrial processes that gave rise to the modern newspaper, which demand that the product of news be delivered on a daily basis — and in the post-print age, more frequently than that. Those processes demand quantity as much as quality; or quantity over quality at lesser news organizations.
Sometimes it makes more sense to get off the news treadmill and experience something more substantial.
*Monday update: I’ve now read Suskind’s article and watched the videos accompanying both his story and the Dan Barry story. They were as good as I imagined they would be.