If you’re a particularly eager and avid consumer of local news, there is a good chance that you’re reading this on the very same day it was delivered to you – September 28. This day marks World News Day, a global commemoration of the importance of good quality journalism based on facts, research, and integrity. If you’re one of the probably hundreds of people who read the Times on the weekend, when you have more free time, then happy “belated” World News Day to you!
“News” is a word to which I have never paid much attention, despite my profession. Of course, I pay attention to news and local happenings, but the word itself – “news” – has never really caught my thoughts. I never knew where the word came from. When I was in school, there was a rumour at one point that it was an acronym for “North East West South”, since NEWS is something that applies to all parts of the globe. I remember researching the etymology of the word “news” at the time, which is how I quickly discovered that the acronym theory was false, but I never bothered looking up the actual origin of the word – until a week ago.
Clean or dirty? Hot or cold? Shiny or dusty? Old or new? Opposites are fun, aren’t they? It turns out that the word “news” is derived from the word “new”. Pretty simple, right?. News, after all, is no good if everyone already knows the story before it comes out. We wouldn’t call it “news” if, for example, the Times reported today that John Lennon was murdered. It’s entirely true, nothing but fact, and relevant due to his fame as a musician, but the fact that it happened in 1980 places it squarely in the category of “not news”. News must be new, and it’s therefore aptly named. This means that just as asking “Old or new?” is a simple example of opposites, asking “Old or news?” would fit the bill as well.
Side note – I’m sure that many readers have known for decades where the word “news” came from, and I don’t mind a bit of well deserved laughter at my expense. It seems so obvious now.
A great organization – of which the Times is a member – is News Media Canada. The association acts as a representative for news publishers all across the country, providing resources and advocacy. Each week, News Media Canada sends out an email to members with the subject line “News on News”. Isn’t that a lovely bit of inception? News rarely reports on itself. As I write this, I can’t help but wonder how many readers understand the state of the news industry in the modern age.
Earlier this month, right here in North Grenville, the Times lost a friend and fellow print news publication, the Kemptville Advance. The Advance will still have an online edition as part of its generic website shared with other publications owned by parent company Metroland, but after well over a century of being able to hold physical copies of the Advance, readers will no longer have that option. Many will argue that the free market speaks for itself, and that if print news cannot sustain itself, that such is the nature of economics – too bad, so sad. While I may agree with that sentiment in some cases, when it comes to news, I don’t think most people know what they are losing.
Facebook and Google brought in a combined advertising revenue of well over $300 billion last year. Of course, with Google owning YouTube, and Facebook also making a majority of its advertising dollars from the streaming of creative content, not all of this money relates to the sharing of news, but it’s safe to say that billions of those dollars do. It’s a lucrative industry, but where are the controls on quality? A post from a reputable news source pays just as much in ad revenue as a full blown hoax, both of which can spread like wildfire in the digital age.
Would you ever ask your children if they want gummy worms for dinner? Let’s face it – this is an option that some kids would love instead of eating yucky healthy food. Parents override this, knowing what’s best for their children when the children don’t know for themselves. News consumers are not children, but they are becoming more tech-savvy and tech dependent. I have theorized for years now, including in a recent article, that technology has negatively impacted peoples’ attention spans, and has made it difficult for us to be captivated by something that doesn’t have the “flair” of social media content. The problem is that the “flair” is often more important than the truth. Facts are secondary when held up against exposure and advertising revenue.
“Afternoon talk shows and tabloid TV. They’ve reduced our attention span to the length of a sound byte.” These are words spoken by a character in a 1996 episode of the television show “The X Files”. Although the type of media has evolved, and technology has grown and become more pervasive, the sentiment still rings true, perhaps even more so now.
What is the way forward for news? Earlier this year, Reverend Joe Haward wrote an article for the Byline Times, positing that the modern news interview is “absurd” in that it’s scripted and nothing more than a performance. He suggested that we must break the “fourth wall” in news to help people feel a greater connection between news stories and their own reality. Perhaps this is the way forward – news with a greater personal connection. As a community newspaper published to unite North Grenville, I can only hope that the Times is leading by example in this regard. With the support of readers and advertisers, we can move mountains in the name of community and truth. Happy World News Day!