In his Friday Globe and Mail column, Jeffrey Simpson questioned the judgment of news editors who routinely serve up "predictable and not terribly consequential" information in the guise of "news." As an example, he pointed out there is rarely anything truly "new" in the "news" about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and challenged the news industry to go beyond easy stories to focus on more challenging and conseqential issues:
Every day, something "happens" in the Middle East. For a tiny minority of news consumers, these developments are of considerable interest, and maybe even importance. For the vast majority of readers, these developments are of no concern because the underlying story never really changes.
The other day, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he could imagine a Palestinian state. Said he: "There is a chance that in the near future contacts with the Palestinians will develop into talks which will concretely deal with the establishment of a Palestinian state." Representatives of the Arab League were in Israel. Their visit was described as a "historic opportunity."
Cynicism aside, how many other "historic opportunities" have there been in this saga? And how many previous Israeli prime ministers have uttered similar, carefully couched thoughts about an eventual Palestinian state?
There is something, but not much, "new" in these latest developments, but many media outlets accorded them considerable importance, whereas the underlying story is that nothing has fundamentally changed.
The most consequential story of our time is the intellectual ferment and clashes within Islamic civilization, a few of which influence the Palestinian-Israeli saga but most of which reach far beyond it geographically, politically and economically. That story is much harder to write … it runs completely counter to prevailing definitions of what qualifies as "news."
Maybe – but this is a heresy – if we adjusted our definition of "news," instead of ritualistically serving up the predictable and not terribly consequential, a few more consumers might be interested. They would certainly be better informed.