Curb your consumption

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

Let’s talk journalism. Last week, I had a quick conversation with a fairly new writer about why journalism exists. This is journalism stripped down to its bare essentials and has nothing to do with our responsibility toward the public. It’s why people read newspapers and the internet when they could be reading fiction or technical manuals.

Ready? 1) People want to know what’s going on in the world, and 2) they don’t want to find out for themselves.

I think a lot of journalists would want to put a bunch of exceptions and additions to this, but when I’m talking to newbies this is what I say. That’s why I think arts and culture reporting is just as important as “hard news.” I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve had with people who don’t get that “Theater” is just as important as “Upfront,” and that the music grid and calendar have more facts per square inch than the most forelock-tugging of investigative news pieces.

I’ve often told writers that daily papers tell you what happened, and newsweeklies tell you what’s going to happen—which is not to say we can’t cover events. That’s why if you want a blow-by-blow description of what happened at the City Council, you’ve got to look in the daily. (Do you see how coverage of City Council meets my criteria? Most people don’t want to go to City Council meetings, but they do want to know what happened.)

I came up with this theory the first time I covered Burning Man in 1995. Our newsstand pick-up exploded that week. Far more people picked up our paper than attended the event. Burning Man was “news” to the people of Reno and Sparks. But if they’d wanted to go, well, as I recall, tickets were $35 back then (and I bitched about that). Most people don’t want to go to Burning Man, but they do want to know what happened.

I think when you read or watch TV news, and one or both of these criteria are not met, you should look real close at the content.