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Getting the Scoop

“All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

—Sgt. Joe Friday

Not long ago I was sorting through old papers for disposal.  I came across a clipping saved for some forgotten reason.  On the reverse was this headline: “NAACP Chief Says More Assistance Needed.”  This headline might have appeared in my hometown paper today (though I stopped reading it years ago).  But the date was May 1971.

Presumably “news” is the report of an event or a situation that the reader cannot experience for himself.  When the chief of the NAACP makes a statement, it is an event, though his demanding higher welfare payments is not exactly hot news.  The “news” report reeks of advocacy and is all too characteristic of the “news” we have been getting for a long time now.

A worse example.  For some years my father attentively took care of my mother during the terrible progress of Alzheimer’s.  Their life gathered so much sympathetic admiration that word got around, and one day a reporter showed up.  The resulting newspaper story mentioned Mr. and Mrs. Wilson in the first paragraph.  Then they disappeared, to be followed by 14 paragraphs about how not enough was being done for African-Americans with Alzheimer’s.  Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were just...

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