Friday, October 5, 2007

Thank You Captain Obvious, King of the Already Known

Every day I visit the website of the Bangor Daily News, where I am constantly treated to insightful, thoroughly-researched news reporting, introduced with heart-stopping headlines like this one:

“Leaf Peeper Alert: There's Color in Those Hills” (Oct. 4).

The lead paragraph sucked me even deeper into this fascinating story: “The Latest Report from Maine's Department of Conservation says the best fall colors are in the Western lakes and mountain region.”

This practical tip saved me a lot of time, because I had been expecting to find breathtaking foliage under the passenger seat of my car during its annual pre-winter cleaning. Thank you, Department of Conservation, for issuing this critically-important report at taxpayer expense!

The practice of covering obvious events has overtaken journalism, even in big-time national news organizations:

“Government Accountability Office Finds $146 Million in Excess Travel Costs” (Boston Globe/Associated Press, Oct. 3).

Okay, this headline actually represents an impressive piece of investigative reporting. The AP had to go through the painstaking process of reading a government-issued report about government waste.

(You know investigative journalism has climbed into the proverbial hand-basket when the government is now doing it for us.)

They went to all that effort to let us know that rich guys in suits like to travel First Class at taxpayer expense, even when they're not supposed to.

Duh. I had already assumed 15% of my tax bill was going to unauthorized senatorial foot massages and the like.

I wouldn't want my selfless public servants to slave away without obnoxiously lavish perks. What do they think I pay taxes for? So impoverished children can get medical care? Pffft.

Sure, I’ll admit, it is compelling to think that extra $146 million could have bought thousands of uninsured Americans a year's worth of health insurance, or, even more importantly, bought us... (let's see, where's my calculator)... approximately five more hours in Iraq.

But we can't forget that without those illegal perks, many politicians would not have the mental or physical strength to continue their arduous public service. And without those politicians, we wouldn't have an Iraq War, so...

What was my point?

Oh, yeah. Journalists are doing a bang-up job of keeping the public on alert about important issues. If you're still not convinced, here's another example:

“Oil Price Volatility is Here to Stay” (CNN Money/PR Newswire, Oct. 5).

Gee, I thought we were right on the doorstep of solving that problem. What a letdown.

This article makes it clear up front that unpredictable oil prices create problems “not only for the global economy but also for several industrial sectors that are heavily reliant on crude and refined [petroleum] products,” such as airlines and freight transport companies.

No ship, Sherlock.

Look, maybe this has something to do with corporate ownership slashing newsroom budgets, expecting to pay less and get more.

For example, it doesn't take very much to run a story about how it snowed nine inches today. Just mention how some cars slid into ditches and road crews have put in long hours, then show pictures of kids building snowmen or sliding on their day off from school, and voila! You've got the same story that appears in every newspaper or newscast in Maine roughly six times a year.

No wonder more and more people adopt hypnotic zombie stares anytime someone mentions the word “news” or “journalism.”

Do you suppose this has any effect on our participatory democracy?

Ah, never mind. Just look at the pretty leaves.

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