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What is news and what is not

DeenBess Sherman

Deena Bess Sherman

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Updated: March 2, 2013 7:43AM

There’s news, there’s entertainment, and then there is useless gossip. I’m noticing lately that television “news” seems to contain all of these, sometimes seeming to intentionally blur the lines between news, entertainment, gossip and advertising.

My husband and I were out to dinner recently with “sports news” on a big screen TV. The story about Manti Te’o make-believe girlfriend repeated in an endless loop for what seemed an eternity. Disgusted, we asked to change the channel.

This, Kim Kardashian’s “baby bump,” or whether Beyonce lip synced, are not news. They’re barely even entertainment. They’re pretty much just gossip that eats up airtime that might otherwise be devoted to actual news.

I asked Facebook friends what they considered the silliest faux news and what real news they felt was being neglected.

Diane Nilan wrote: “I’m kinda going with the Beyonce lip-sync hoopla, although the competition is tough. And, of course, I go with how the powerless and vulnerable are going to get splattered like bugs on the windshield by our budget slashers.”

“The Manti Te’o story is the silliest,” wrote Rev. Gordon Straw. “What is being left out is the fact that the House of Representatives refuses to pass the Violence Against Women Act because it includes provisions for Native, immigrant, and lesbian women.”

College student, Kevin Lardi, wrote: “Manti Te’o’s girlfriend is the silliest by far; I’d have to say I’d like to see more reporting on the effects of U.S. foreign policy.”

Jeff Long weighed in with: “If the media spent a fraction of the time reporting on climate change vs. the coverage they’ve given Te’o’s fantasy girl, it could help bring greater awareness and spark a relevant, mainstream discussion on a serious issue that is already affecting us all.”

So why do we hear endlessly about the private lives of athletes and celebrities, while real news is neglected? Because we allow it by continuing to listen and watch. We don’t demand better. Heck, some don’t even demand facts anymore! We live in a world where blatant lies are repeated until people believe them (our president is a Socialist Muslim with no birth certificate), while facts are called “opinions.”

Granted, it’s time consuming and ultimately impossible to research every little thing (believe me, I try), so we have to know which sources we can trust. For world news I trust and; for science and health, publications such as Scientific American Magazine and Journal of the American Medical Association; for local events, happily, our Beacon does a pretty good job. If a source constantly reinforces all of your own prejudices, you may want to check some others.

We must also take a look at trails of money when considering what is true and what gets reported. Those who have the money to buy silence or buy politicians, can often keep things off our radar.

For example, the company Amgen hired lobbyists who had been chiefs of staff to senators in positions to help them: Max Baucus (Montana), Orrin Hatch (Utah), and Mitch McConnell (Kentucky). They also gave heavily to these senators’ campaigns. In return Amgen got a $500 million giveaway in the “fiscal cliff” bill, thanks to a paragraph in section 632 that delays price restraints on some of their drugs. It barely made news. Anywhere.

Money works the other way too. Sometimes a “news” story — one that is not clearly noted as advertising — blatantly promotes a particular product. Medical breakthroughs are news. Product recalls are news. The upgraded features of a new cell phone are not.

So be careful what you accept as true. Fact-check when you can. When you want real news, don’t be redirected away from important events or debates by gossip and entertainment. If we demand better, we eventually may get it.

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