Two views on news: all or nothing

When it comes to getting news, the best source for information is, well, everything. That’s according to Morris Brown Jr., a former newspaper reporter who teaches public relations at Chico State University."You’re not going to get any real news at one place, anywhere,” he said, referring to newspapers, television and Internet sites, among other news outlets.

Brown was speaking during a discussion about the inclusion of entertainment news—or soft journalism—in the reporting of traditional news organizations. It’s a trend that has been highlighted recently with major television networks, and others, reporting extensively on the death of B-list celebrity Anna Nicole Smith, the ditzy former reality TV star who gained exposure as a pin-up girl.

There are a number of reasons Smith’s demise repeatedly made it into print and broadcast news, despite her having lived a life seemingly devoid of anything traditionally newsworthy, said Brown, who called her nothing more than a wannabe Marilyn Monroe.

News outlets, he said, are bending to the demands, and prurient interests, of the public.

“If you don’t give them what they want, they’ll go somewhere else,” Brown said Tuesday evening (March 6) during the first forum of the spring semester for Chico State’s Center for Applied and Professional Ethics.

The media have strayed from the idea of information and analysis, and in doing so have let the public down. The bottom lines of news corporations have come to dictate what’s reported, said Brown, who pointed out that the outlets are often owned by huge corporations, such as The Walt Disney Co., owner of ABC News.

Tony Graybosch, a Chico State philosophy professor whose role in the forum, ostensibly, was to play devil’s advocate to Brown’s view on entertainment in the news, had his own interesting solution to the controversy.

“I try really hard to avoid all sorts of news,” he said.

Graybosch, who sat deep in his seat with his sneakers kicked up on a chair in front of him, pontificated about how, in one way or another, the media are useless. News, he said, is a lot like Hollywood in that stories are just the same ones told over and over again, just with different characters.

Remember the stories of convicted murderer Scott Peterson, and of O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of killing his wife? Well, they’re actually the same story, according to Graybosch. During the forum, he claimed to have found value in the reporting of Smith’s life and death, saying it goes to show no matter how beautiful or rich people are they can still have a miserable life.

In his off-the-cuff banter with Brown, Graybosch said he doesn’t have time for the news. He has too many worthwhile things in his life to do, like taking a walk, for example. And he encouraged his listeners to do other things, like reading a book.

“Don’t pay attention to this stuff unless you’re going to pay attention in a deep way,” he said after a reference to author Henry David Thoreau, a pioneer in simple living.

Brown disagreed, saying the public will remain uninformed if people tune out entirely.

While he gave up on television reporting long ago, recalling the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as the last time he witnessed quality in-depth coverage in that medium, the former journalist hasn’t quite given up on newspapers, calling them the “last bastion of hope for some degree of information.”