Editor's Notebook: When No News is Bad News
Putting together Monday evening's news bulletin must have been no easy task. That day Vice President Dick Cheney, a man who has already suffered four heart attacks, was hospitalized after complaining of chest pains. Also on Monday, a 15-year-old boy opened fire in a Santee, Calif. school, killing two of his fellow students and wounding 13 others. Further afield, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon completed the appointments to his new cabinet, and 60 people died when a bridge collapsed in Portugal. Meanwhile, in Palm Beach County, Fl. a dolphin which had been rescued from a shark attack last year was returned to the sea after recovering from its injuries.
Of all these events, only the dolphin was covered on the 11 p.m. news in Palm Beach County. So, someone watching might well have had no idea at all that our vice president was in the hospital. Many may still not know of the tragedy in Portugal. Which is, of course, as it should be--the well-being of a dolphin is definitely of more importance than the health of the vice president or 60 Portuguese commuters. Of course, Monday's news was far from atypical. Local news always seems to predominate on American television. This lack of balance is both tedious and dangerous.
This must be rectified. Thirty minutes of non-local news per day between 6:30 and 7 p.m. is simply not enough. In England, each half-hour of news contains between 20 and 25 minutes of national and international coverage with the remainder devoted to local issues and special interest stories. Even if switching to this system would be too great a shift, some movement needs to be made in this direction. Only then can Americans become better educated about the events which are daily shaping their nation. Residents of what is supposedly the greatest nation in the world should care about more than their own narrow, regional interests.
That said, local issues should not be abandoned entirely. The Crimson would lose its relevance if it did not comprehensively cover Harvard events. Yet, it would be similarly devalued if it did not include AP reports of national news. The residents of Florida should know that brush fires are breaking out near their houses and that a police officer in Jupiter, Fl. was shot in the line of duty. But they should also know that their vice president is sick and that, in spite of the fact that the east coast of Florida will be experiencing five sunny days in the 60s and 70s, major storm systems are wreaking havoc on both coasts of America.
Although national and international events may seem remote, they impact our everyday lives. President George W. Bush's tax cut should affect the lives of Floridians every bit as much as the upcoming air show in Fort Lauderdale, fascinating though it may be. Citizens may wonder why military spending is set to increase under Bush's tax plan if they have no idea of America's commitments abroad.
There is an old saying about local news: "If it bleeds, it leads." The police officer in Jupiter was hospitalized on Monday night. So was Dick Cheney. So were 60 commuters in Portugal. The dolphin tale was heartwarming, but should it have prevented us from hearing about these other issues? Just like hundreds of others across the country, network executives in West Palm Beach had to make a choice. Were they correct in deciding that a police officer with a leg wound was really more newsworthy than a vice president with heart problems?