Getting the Real News

Editorial Notebook

Rick Kaplan, the former president of CNN, says that it is a journalist’s job to inform people of what is crucial. His comments came at a journalism conference at the Institute of Politics last month where one of the major topics of discussion was what news the media should cover.

It is perhaps even more surprising than Kaplan’s saying news should trump ratings that some journalists have been taking his advice. It seems that since Sept. 11, many journalists have been returning to their roots in delivering real news. The future of pop media is in doubt.

It has been only a few years since the one major news story was the relationship between President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky. Trysts at the Oval Office, the cigar, the Starr Report and millions of dollars spent on uncovering the most personal details of a presidents’ life were not the most productive uses of our government’s, the media’s or, frankly, our own time.

It has been only 10 months since the Levy-Condit scandal broke. Although Chandra Levy came into the news for tragic reasons she quickly ceased to be the impetus for investigation. Instead, journalists reported on Representative Gary Condit’s (D-Calif.) past extramarital affairs, again taking up countless hours of precious news time.

Since these sex scandals, no new ones have risen to take their place. We are witnessing a shift in what even popular journalists consider fair game. Some people persist in arguing that journalists are justified in airing the dirty laundry of anyone in the public eye: people want dirt and they insist on it. And perhaps we do. After all, a nasty, shocking scandal allows us to live vicariously in a sexy and seedy world that we can only catch a glimpse of in movies, not in our mundane lives.

But that does not make it real news. Real news is the result of careful investigation into issues that affect our lives. Real news is crucial to our understanding of the world around. Real news helps us see problems and, hopefully, helps us find solutions as well. Apartheid, the AIDS epidemic, Enron, Firestone tires, Tailhook and, of course, Watergate are prime examples of the powerful and important role journalists play in shaping our world. And it is precisely this kind of journalism that we should foster. We need it more than we realize.

Although there is a place for Entertainment Tonight, TV talk shows and Fox News, true journalists have a responsibility to give their audience the type of news coverage they need in order to be thoughtful, informed citizens. Journalists have the duty not to hide behind the excuse that people do not like real news. Journalists should make decisions not based on popular demand but must instead rely on what is truly crucial.