Read the News Backwards
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

I turned on the TV news for tomorrow's weather and fell into yesterday's nightmare. Another crazed gunman was shooting up a school somewhere, an accused child molester was on trial, and a body had been stolen from a grave in a small-town cemetery.
       
I turned off the TV news, never mind the weather.





It's not that I'm not concerned about violence, or that I lack compassion for the victims of heinous crimes. But none of these atrocities occurred near where I live, thank God, and there's nothing I can do about them but feel disgusted and despairing.

If there's a gruesome crime today in Florida, Nebraska or even the Yukon I can count on the media to tell me about it before bedtime and again the next morning, and for days on end if the story is good enough. But will I ever hear about the fireman who saved a life, the teacher who helped a troubled child, the farmer who cleared his debts, or the woman who survived breast cancer in those places?

What good is news about people and places we have little notion of, and are not likely to ever meet? Information without intention is only gossip. That was the opinion of Henry David Thoreau nearly 150 years ago:
      
"If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, we need never read of another. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for the myriad instances and applications?"
      
I was trained as a journalist with a mission to report the truth -- good,
bad or indifferent. I believe citizens have a right to know about things
that are likely to affect the quality of their lives. But I never imagined that being informed would include dwelling on the sex lives of celebrities or learning how a man kills and cannibalizes teenage boys.
      
So I've turned off the TV news, which is all about celebrities and monstrosities anyhow. (Ever notice how only celebrities are mentioned on network news when they die?)

I cast my lot with newspapers, the more local and personal the better. It's not that they don't sensationalize, because they often do --
especially on the front page. But newspapers also report on weddings and weed control and local high school sports, and the like, when no one else will bother. And the best way to read a newspaper, I have discovered, is back to front, classifieds first. This way I learn about the weekend auctions and the baseball scores and the city council's new ordinance before I get to the holdups and hijackings and beheadings.
 

Boy, it's awful what happened in North Carolina, but did you read about the new four-wheel-drive tractor the implement dealer's selling?

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