S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, April 03, 2006

What is truly important?

The Reaction's Michael J.W. Stickings brought up something today about what is and is not important. I quote a few sentences, from his post about personnel changes at the White House, that got me to thinking about this maddening news pattern in the so-called MSM:

It's the ongoing non-story story. . . But there's only so much media attention to go around, and more focus on personnel means less focus on policy. Who's in, who's out, who may be in, who may be out, who may move up, what it all means, if anything at all. . . Who cares? I mean, aren't there more important things going on in the world?
What are today's "big deals"; what is - and is not - crucial news? The answers to this question are almost always going to be subjective. Here are some examples of news items from my aggregator feed's folders that are significant to me, and why I find them important. From just one U. S. news service I picked three big stories. To quote from Yahoo!News -
  • "Carroll Reunited With Family in Boston" This story had longevity. After 82 days as a hostage in Iraq a courageous freelance journalist is alive and well, reunited with her U.S. family. It is very good news after so many days of anxiety amongst so many of us around the world.
  • "Immigrants rally for rights in marches" This story is one of scale and potential for significant legal change. Different versions of this same story were repeated at several different locations around the nation. It involved thousands of ordinary people protesting over the big and complicated question of what to do about undocumented immigrants. Congress is debating reforms to the law. How should laws be changed? That is the big question still being hotly debated by several sectors around the country.
  • "Shiites divided as some ask Iraqi PM to withdraw" This story is one of seemingly insurmountable division within Iraq's body politic that has lasted for months. The war in Iraq and its political solution is of huge importance to the U.S. This, too, is a story with longevity and continued impasse. This signals the first sign of dissension within the most dominant faction in Iraqi politics. To quote the story,
    The move by the Shiite MPs, signaling an unprecedented split in the conservative Shiite alliance that dominates Iraqi politics, was aimed at
    resolving political deadlock that has stalled formation of a new government more than three months after elections.
From foreign news sources -
  • Aljazeera: "Sistani seen as key to Iraq progress". Pressure from the United Stated and the United Kingdom may be needed to solve this continuing big foreign relations nightmare for three countries in the world. Until the situation on the ground in Iraq changes, thousands of U.S. troops, contractors and Iraqi citizens are in life-threatening danger. To quote from the story,
    Rice and Straw are annoyed at the lack of progress. The British and American
    foreign secretaries have ended two days of talks to press Iraqi leaders to
    form a government quickly with a veiled appeal to a Shia cleric for his help.
  • BBC News: "US helicopter 'shot down' in Iraq" - A story of casualties to U.S. forces in Iraq is heart-breaking. It will be devastating to those family members receiving a visit from military personnel with details of the death of their family member. And it is very sad and frustrating for all the rest of us. This is years-long story with longevity and scale. There have been 2332 American deaths since the war began. To quote further from the story,
    A US military helicopter lost in Iraq on Saturday is believed to have been shot
    down and the two pilots are feared dead, the US military has said. The Apache Longbow was lost near Yussifiya, south of Baghdad, at 1730 local time (1330 GMT) on Saturday. An insurgent group said it carried out the attack, in an unverified statement on the internet. The latest deaths come as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Iraq for talks with political leaders.
  • BBC News: "US military plane crashes at base". Plane crashes almost always catch our attention. That one of the military's largest airplanes crashed on take-off is newsworthy because of the potential scale of loss of life. Many of us are curious about what happened. Here's what the BBC says,
    The C-5 is the US military's largest plane. A US Air Force cargo plane carrying 17 people has crashed near a base in the north-eastern US state of Delaware.
    The C-5 plane developed problems on take-off from the Dover Air Force base,
    Pentagon officials said. A number of people were taken to hospital but the extent of their injuries was not known.

Important news stories on my list were chosen in a very subjective way. I judge the importance of a story based on these factors:
  • where it comes from (a "hot" area or my own territory)
  • who is involved (how significant are the players in my mind)
  • how big is it (how many people could be affected and how much)
  • why is it a big deal (significant because of the novelty/horror/good news/etc., aspects)
  • how long has it been going on (is it a big new surprise, or has it persisted "forever")
It is the old "Five W's" of journalism - who, what, where, when, and why, and, of course, how? And reporters and commentators are going to, unfortunately, often be overly subjective. It is the way human brains work. It is hard to remain completely objective. We either carefully categorize or stereotype. We either report the facts or distort or ignore reality. We all have egos but try to see the larger picture, or assume like-mindedness in our readers. We are either too cold or too passionate about the issue. Even though I receive no salary for my work, I try to maintain some element of objectivity. I ask at least as much from those who make their living from journalism and should be able to understand what has news validity for the public.

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