You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

It's not fake news, it's non-news

The Baltimore Sun

We are seeing richly merited concern about the spread of fake news, fabricated articles designed to inflame opinion and corrupt public discourse. But what I want to look at today is something that surrounds us without out noticing it: non-news.

Time announced today that it is proclaiming Donald Trump “Person of the Year.” That is being treated as news, but it is just as stunt, as I mentioned in a blog post seven years ago:

“Phillip Blanchard, testiest of the Testy Copy Editors, advises us, as he does (futilely) every year, to pay no attention to the ‘Person of the Year’ hoo-hah from Time: ‘Please remember that “Person of the Year” is a magazine promotion, and as such is not news.’ ”

Any day now we should see the annual article of the cost of acquiring all the gifts itemized in the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” an article very nearly as irritating as the song on which it is based. The article is a promotion from a bank, which says this: “For more than 30 years, PNC has calculated the prices of the twelve gifts from the classic carol ‘The Twelve Day of Christmas.’ The result is the PNC Christmas Price Index, a unique and whimsical holiday tradition that makes learning about the economy fun.”

Read it and congratulate yourself on uniqueness, whimsy, and your imagined financial literacy.

Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which has generated a plethora of articles. Journalism is a sucker for the odd belief that anniversaries in multiples of five are more significant than other anniversaries. (You would think that something so predictable would be easy to put together, but I recall that our article on the hundredth anniversary of the Great Fire of Baltimore moved through the copy desk on deadline—an article we had had ninety-nine years to write.)

Some poor devil is always assigned to write about the discovery that it gets hot in the summertime, and another is dispatched to report that it gets cold in the wintertime, things that any reader can determine merely by opening the front door. Yet another gets sent out to enlighten the public that the airports are thronged and the highways crowded on holiday weekends. At least newspaper journalists are luckier than television journalists, who have to be strapped to stanchions in gale-force winds to provide authenticity to their reports.

The romantic entanglements of celebrities are not news. Articles on their escapades are instead gossip, written to allow the reader to feel both titillated and superior to people who are wealthier and more famous.

CNN is running a photo feature today on the most memorable selfies of 2016, on which I think I need not comment further.

That will be it for now. I have to go into the office to make a video for next week about ugly Christmas sweaters.

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