Busy day of work today: finish up a story about a change in the law that affects who you can pull a gun on (it goes in effect Saturday), report a story about an “armed” robbery in Ossipee (the note said he had a gun, but no one saw it) and run over to Fryeburg to watch an old dowel mill burn down.
That’s news. I was at the fire alongside three vans from Portland-based television stations. And there weren’t even flames. That’s a long ride for smoke.
I have to admit, I like reporting about legislation and town government more than fires and robberies. The term prurient interests comes to mind. A fire is news, in the most basic sense of the word, but it is less than crucial information for a citizenry hoping to self-govern.
I know that may seem a little over the top, but the forth estate is protected by the U.S. Constitution because information is central to democracy. Factual and relevant information is what the founding fathers hoped would enable people (Ok, in there day it was only landholding Christian white males, but still) to join together to make the best decisions for the plurality. The free press was and is crucial for that.
But it also has a seedier side — one interested in crime, death and destruction. Why does a fatal accident matter? One doesn’t. If there are a string of them, tied to an unsafe vehicular design or a dangerous stretch of road, then maybe it does. A newspaper should point out the latter, I believe, and ignore the former.
But if it does that it’s ignoring news. There is a distinction, between relevant news and sensationalized news, and it can be difficult for a paper to walk. The smoke at today’s fire was clear from Center Conway. People are going to want to know what happened. And this was the third time the same Rite Aid pharmacy has been robbed. That’s a pattern, I would say.
These are important stories, but they aren’t (or shouldn’t be) a paper’s bread and butter. A story about legislation that changes how gun owners can brandish their weapons when threatened — that’s something every citizen should know. Abuse within a residential care facility — that’s worth noting. Legislation that changes taxation and fees for a group of people — that too is worthwhile.
As are the “boring” stories about town hall, city council and school board. At least on the local level, those can’t be undersold. If all politics are local, then all reporting should be too.