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Jewish World Review April 17, 2002 / 6 Iyar, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

The odd new theory
that news is old | "What's new?"

The simplest of questions -- and one likely to draw the most interesting variety of answers.

"Did you hear the news?"

A question guaranteed to stop a listener in his or her tracks.

"That's news to me."

An admission that what a person has just heard is first-time information -- unknown to him a moment before.

News is. . . .

Well, it's new. That's the beauty of it -- that's the energy, the essence. Which should go without saying. But if you were to judge by the events of the last several weeks. . . .

It started with the controversy over whether David Letterman would leave CBS for ABC, and thus displace Ted Koppel and "Nightline." Within days the story grew into a debate over the place of news in the daily diet of a younger generation of Americans. Those younger Americans couldn't be counted on to be as interested in news programming as their parents and grandparents were, some commentators said; the younger Americans were much more likely to watch comedy or music. The eyes of those young Americans were what the national advertisers coveted -- and this might mean the end of the traditional network newscasts.

The translation of this -- there was no escaping it -- was that news is old.

At least that's what some of the analysts of such things appeared to be saying. News -- news programming, and especially news programming presented in the time-honored formats -- was dusty, dreary, tedious, musty. . . .


Which is not the truth and will never be the truth. It shows how far afield we all have gone in analyzing everything to death that we can actually, with straight faces, contemplate the argument that news is now old.

This is, in fact, the argument that is being made in some quarters: that it's not a specific anchor, or a specific broadcast, that lacks appeal to young citizens -- it's the very concept of news itself. News is not edgy enough, not sardonic enough, not fast-moving enough, not colorful enough. . . .

Under this theory, a rerun of a hit entertainment show has more visceral immediacy than a newscast.

(You'll note that most of the references here have been to television news. News as it appears on big sheets of paper . . . you know, newspapers . . . is regarded by these analysts to be even less appealing to young people than is broadcast news. One of the saddest stories I have heard in recent days was related to me by a middle-school teacher in the suburbs of Chicago who said that her students who worked so hard to write and produce a school newspaper were mocked and called belittling names by their fellow students in the cafeteria when they tried to sell the papers they were proud of -- and that when one student tried to buy an issue because a story in it looked interesting to him, he was ridiculed by the people sitting around him.)

The good news here?

The good news is that the news-is-old theories are dead wrong -- the good news is that there is nothing fresher, nothing more vibrant, nothing that overrides everything else in the world more than news does. Yes, there have been times when the tellers of the tales have attempted to make themselves more important than the tales themselves; yes, there have been times when we who report the news have not exactly covered ourselves with dignity and decorum.

But that's us -- that's our problem to repair. The news itself -- in each of its many forms, written or spoken -- is, by definition, brand-new, every day. It can't be preempted -- it's preemptive. It can't be made obsolete -- it's the antithesis of obsolete. It is the story of our world, our country, our town, our block, and the details of it today didn't exist when the sun went down last night, and the details of what it will be tomorrow don't exist even now. The news grow old? The sun will go black before the news becomes old.

"What's new?" "Did you hear the news?" It'll never die. And if, theoretically, it did, then that in itself would be news.

To those kids selling papers in the cafeteria:

Stay with it. Never stop. Do it right, and it's the best way in the world to spend your life.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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