The Newbie Editor

The Newbie Editor: Most News is "Boring" - And That's Just Fine

Defenders of the news business do themselves no favors when they defend its value solely based on 5-10% of what we do on a good day.

(Photo: Master1305/Shutterstock)

I picked a helluva time to get into the news business. Papers are shutting down and being ruthlessly downsized all the time. Reporters are being fired en masse and mid-level editors are not even being hired in the first place.

All sorts of solutions have been suggested to stop this fire sale, something which I’ll probably address in another column.

For now, I’d like to talk about an argument that I see too many folks in media using when they hear of the closing of a paper or news outlet.

Almost always, the argument runs that the decline of a news outlet means more corruption, less oversight, the “watchdog of democracy” being put down.

With all due respect, I think this is a fundamentally flawed and self-defeating argument, one which actually misses the core purpose of news media in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong: Exposing corruption and malfeasance by public or private individuals is certainly an important part of what we do. This is true even when we report technically “legal” actions that the public deserves to know about and possibly oppose and resist.

But let’s be honest: Something like 90% and probably more of the news items I read through every single day in any given newspaper or website, no matter what its politics or leaning, is not about those sorts of scandals.

Even today, with all the changes in how news is reported, with all the changes in technology and audience, and with all the adjustments in how we write news and use terms, the main purpose of news is at it was when the first newspaper went to print: simply providing what used to be called “intelligence” or information to interested customers and later citizens.

It was this function that originally led the US Post Office to agree to carry often bulky newspapers at a subsidized rate to anyone in the country, no matter where they lived.

The argument ran that every citizen deserved to know what was going on and be informed about the place they lived in: laws that were being passed, what the market was doing, what the weather would be like, what’s happening with the economy and local prices.

The best argument for news - whether local, national, or international - is that a given outlet faithfully fulfills its function in providing information that seems pertinent to people’s lives, even when that information is “boring” or routine – as most news often is.

The steelman argument for a news outlet is that it collects, curates, and processes this information in a way that’s more efficient, more effective, and more user-friendly than the average Google search.

Yes, said news outlet should also do exposes if needed, but their main purpose should be to be the mainstay of knowing things.

Our job is first and foremost to prove our importance as an institution. An expose every few months is not going to cut it.

The Newbie Editor is a column with occasional musings on the inner workings, craziness, and problems of being an editor and the news media more generally, by me, a newly minted breaking news editor.

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