When What's Just in Just Isn't News

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Life is composed of accidental moments. They are glimpses of who we are and where we live.

Not long ago I was on the rowing machine in the fitness center at Gaithersburg's Bohrer Park. It was a little after 6 in the morning and the other early birds were into their exercise routines on the stationary bikes, step machines and treadmills.

As usual, we had a local news program on the four TVs positioned around the center. Also, as usual, my mind wandered between the news being reported and personal thoughts, such as my plans of the day, future vacations or other ordinary matters.

Suddenly the news program was broken into by one of those "Breaking News" announcements. It was one of those full-blown broadcasts, complete with the brightly colored station logo and the accompanying high-volume music.

My attention turned to a TV in front of me. I ran down the possible news that was about to be announced: another terrorist attack, a plane crash, more bombings in Iraq or the death of a national or international figure. Secretly I was hoping that it was a death of an individual rather than the other more horrific alternatives.

As I waited for the "Breaking News" pre-announcement to play out, I noticed the concerned expressions on my fellow early-morning exercisers. Collectively we slowed the pace of our workouts; we were fixated, waiting for the news.

The music stopped, the station's logo faded and one of the co-anchors came into focus.

"This just in from Los Angeles," he began, with a somber expression on his face.

Then a picture of Paris Hilton appeared above his left shoulder.

The news anchor informed us that Paris Hilton had been arrested early that morning on a DUI charge. He also reported that Ms. Hilton was briefly handcuffed. The anchor solemnly promised we would be kept informed as the latest news on the arrest came in.

I started to laugh, as did several of the other early birds. But the significance of the report soon turned my thoughts to a sober realization: someone, probably the morning news show's producer, considered Ms. Hilton's arrest a highly newsworthy event. Is Paris Hilton being arrested really worth a "Breaking News" announcement?

As part of the generation that remembers news reports from the likes of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, I can't accept this definition of news. But I realize there is really very little I can do to change the media's definition of news. Luckily I can still laugh!

--Tom Guisto, Gaithersburg

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