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News saturation kills debate

I like news a lot. I like reading it, I like listening to it, I like writing it and I love writing about it. When the time rolls around every month to write my column for the Vision, I usually start sifting through all the articles I starred on Google Reader or passed along to friends. Something usually pops up. In many cases, the average article that gets digitally tucked away for future reference is something small that didn’t get much buzz.

This month it hasn’t been as easy, though, and that’s counter intuitive because of how much is going on in the news–Chilean miners, midterm elections, French protests, NPR reporters getting fired, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell– juicy topics, all of which I have an opinion on, but after 10 minutes of scanning through Google Reader, I don’t want to write about any of it.

It’s not because these items are not important; it’s because these days when a story breaks it takes all of an hour for journalists, bloggers, analysts and pundits to tear it apart and completely over-saturate the audience. I don’t want to read 24 posts about why or if NPR was right or wrong to fire veteran reporter Juan Williams for saying that since 9/11 he has a moment of anxiety if he boards an airplane and sees someone in “Muslim garb.” In the immortal words of my high school gym locker neighbor, “I’m over it.” These stories get put through the strainer so quickly that I lose the will power to debate or swap opinions with anyone. One round would have been enough.

Mostly though, it makes me wonder what other things are happening in the world while the networks run Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch, I’m you” ad on loop. These elections have been a bona fide circus, but even a circus has multiple rings. Entertaining at times? Yes, but we’ve got to put a cap on this sucker at some point.

While trying to figure out what to write about, I daydreamed about creating an alternate news outlet of some kind that refused to cover high profile news stories. It could be a network where, instead of worrying about not missing any of the “big ones,” they intentionally sought out the stories that would likely get skipped over. The stories would still be important; the news directors would just figure that the audience is getting all that other stuff elsewhere. It could be a way of turning off all the noise. I’m convinced there’s got to be something else under there.

That’s why I like those under-the-radar news articles the best. They still have room for interpretation, for extrapolation. They have a potential that compels the reader to think. When a story gets too much coverage, honestly, I feel a little bit robbed, as if everybody beat me to the punch. Before I even had a chance to roll it around in my head for while, they outlined all possible implications and served it on a platter. I’ve heard people say that news is boring, that it’s just facts, but I’ve always seen a beauty in being handed that skeleton of a story. It is as if the writer and the reader have a mutual understanding that the reader does not need to be spoon-fed and is perfectly capable of coming to a conclusion on their own – because if there’s something that drives me up the wall, it’s being told how to think and of course, what to write.

Along those lines, when journalism is done well, there’s something great about trusting the reader enough to take what you wrote and do with it what they may: Here’s a story, created free from interference or obligation. It’s as even as anything man-made can be and it’s yours.

Erin Carson, Vision editor, is a senior journalism major in the Honors Program.

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