Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What makes the news?

What makes the news? A Parade magazine reader posed that question to columnist Marilyn vos Savant on October 28, 2007.

The reader, Brian VerHage of Fort Mill, S.C., asked Marilyn why news stories always seem to report bad news exclusively. Here's the Parade column.

Marilyn answers the reader's question, and as I read her response, I thought: Well, yes. Here's where Marilyn's celebrated high I.Q. and common sense would really help us out with book promotion campaigns. If only we could get inside the minds of assignment editors and news producers, then just think how effective would our book promotion campaigns be!

I'm fond of Marilyn's column, and I have a lot of respect for her high intelligence (and that facile mind of hers that can work through just about any puzzle a reader can pose -- seemingly, in an instant). But I'm not sure she was 100% on target with her perspective about what makes news.

She was partly correct. Yes, news is a sudden happening. Non-news is a non-happening, of course, or something that happened so gradually that no one noticed it (and, presumably, nobody cared about it), as Marilyn points out.

But let's take it a step farther. News is what happens when someone says, "Hey! Wait! I've reached a conclusion, and here it is!" or "Let me be the first to point this out: there's a trend happening here!" And news, of course, is when the media reports that the someone in question is saying it.

Also, let me take a stab at answering the reader's question. To quote Brian VerHage exactly, the question was: Why do nearly all the stories on newscasts focus on negative events?

I just want to reassure Brian that, sometimes, the media is all over good news. In fact, sometimes the media is so saturated with good news that it makes some media consumers (or this media consumer, anyway) squirm.

Here in Massachusetts, the Boston Red Sox World Championship win has been saturating all the local news outlets. In fact, everywhere you turn -- TV, newspapers, radio, and the Net -- it's Sox, Sox, Sox! There's so much good news for Boston sports enthusiasts that there's little room for any other type of news.

This was not the week to get mugged. Nobody cares. It was not the week to have your house catch on fire. No sympathy from the press. It was not the week for a strange infection to hit a local school. Wouldn't even make the radar screen.

No, this week, Boston-area news is about one thing, and one thing only. The Boston Red Sox have brought good news to the Red Sox Nation, and have brought grim news to any author who's trying to conduct a book promotion tour in the Boston area for the past week or so.

Good news, as it turns out, is not necessarily good news for authors and publishers who are trying to do some book marketing in the media.

Of course, Massachusetts' good news isn't good news for everyone. Thank goodness, there's always Colorado for those who are seeking book promotion opportunities.

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