Now that digital social networks are coming to provide the bulk of actionable information on important stories– as has been the case with Boulder’s Fourmile fire— news media will continue to offer deeply unsatisfying sensational stories that skew reality and scare people. As the FreePress project Save the News reports today, the Associated Press, the nation’s top wire service, in its freelance submission guidelines makes no bones about what it is willing to pay people to produce.
Save the News blogger Libby Reinish excerpts the unsurprising yet still shocking guidelines posted at AP bureaus in Minnesota and Ohio:
AP Members Want:
* Train wrecks, airplane crashes, drownings, fatal auto accidents (if there are multiple victims or unusual circumstances) and unusual accidental deaths;
* Meetings where action of regional or statewide interest is taken or where a prominent person speaks;
* Riots, demonstrations, strikes;
* Major fires (involves loss of life, public disruption or destruction of a structure/site known statewide), explosions, oil or other chemical spills.–Unusual bank robberies (exceptionally violent, hostages taken, serial robber, etc.);
* Weather news, including ice and hail storms, heavy snows, damaging rains and floods, record heat and cold, tornadoes; and,
* Human interest stories. The odd, the offbeat, the heart-warming.
* Non-fatal auto or boating accidents;
* Motor vehicle chases, unless major damage or loss of life occurs;
* Routine city council, school board or other public meetings, unless an issue being discussed at other meetings around the state — such as state budget cuts — is discussed;
* Bomb threats (unless a MAJOR public disruption results), petty crimes, minor drug busts, minor or non-fatal fires;
* Suicides or obituaries unless the person is known regionally or statewide or unusual circumstances are involved; and,
* Publicity handouts, including local pageant winners, fund-raisers and charity events.
Reinish writes that AP’s guidelines are doomed to generate “mind-numbing, paranoia-inducing stories that are neither informed nor newsworthy.” She proposes her own idealized version of the submission guidelines:
*Coverage and analysis of local elections, state legislative issues and regional business, education and environmental news;
* Journalism that holds our leaders in government and business accountable;
* News that is as diverse as our country;
* Reporting that prevents wars, economic collapse and environmental disasters, not just covers them after the fact;
* Journalism that empowers communities and promotes personal agency;
* Coverage of issues that are important to women and people of color;
* Hard-hitting investigative journalism and original reporting on issues of community relevance; and,
* In-depth reporting on local issues that is accurate, credible and verifiable.
* He-said-she-said journalism (or “balanced reporting”) that covers both sides without getting at the truth;
* Horserace election coverage that is more enamored with polls and controversies than real issues;
* Fawning interviews with people in power;
* Press releases transcribed as news;
* Gratuitous blood and gore;
* Oddball human interest stories that teach us nothing useful about the world;
* Coverage that reinforces negative stereotypes;
* Time-wasting in-depth coverage of local weather conditions;
* Celebrity news and gossip; and,
* “News” shilling the latest consumer craze.