The Role of News in a Complex World

News, to many of us, is just words written on paper. It may be about anything, but if you think about it the meaning becomes crystal clear. To put it briefly, news consists of reports that are submitted to the press by a public body or an agency. A news story can be general, like “A scientist has discovered new planets”, or it can be more specific, such as “A man has been convicted of mailing bombs to America”. An example of news could be the New York Times publishing the official winner of a major presidential race.

News is relevant to all aspects of human life. To the extent that it helps us make decisions and understand current events, it has value. However, news is not unbiased, unlike factual reporting. For instance, if you read The New York Times, you can find a quote from President Bush, but if you read a scientific article about global warming, you will find that the scientist who made the announcement did not necessarily believe that the president was correct; in both cases, what you read is an opinion, or political comment, rather than facts.

News is usually interesting or fun for its audience, but it does not have much information. Facts are important to help people make informed decisions, so newspapers and magazines will often dedicate some pages to information about new developments or historical events. However, news value has little to do with readers’ interest in the material, and even less to their enjoyment of the content. A piece about a tooth ache in the third world would not hold any more interest for an American audience than a piece about stem cell research in the United States, despite the exciting stories and quotes.

News, as any newspaper or magazine editor will tell you, is designed to appeal to readers of all ages. News is subjective in nature, based on human interest. A piece about a missing school bus would hold no interest for a young student, because the incident happened many weeks ago. But a story about pollution in China would be of great interest to an older person who lives in rural China and has seen pollution spread across the countryside. The objectivity of news, then, is not to entertain but inform. In the case of newspapers and magazines, it means entertaining enough to stay in business.

A major part of modern journalism, however, has been to replace the subjective, social, and political views of newspapers and magazines with more professional, data-driven views that more directly affect the general public. Newsroom professionals argue that this move undermines the objectivity of the news, and some see it as a betrayal of the profession’s dedication to accuracy. Others, however, see it as a necessary step for papers and magazines to survive in a digital age that has left them little choice. It allows them to compete for advertising dollars against websites that, while providing a platform for advertising, does not have the same impact on revenue as newspapers and magazines once did.

News readers are therefore being asked to make a hard choice between entertainment and information. While some news readers may thrive on the challenge of sifting through the latest gossips and politics of Washington or New York, others will prefer to stick to the basics: the weather, local events, and the latest scoop on their favorite celebrities. News, then, should not be substituted for the information, but used as a supplement to it. News is one way of keeping people informed, and it remains a powerful medium through which readers can connect and share their own understanding of the world around them.