“It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.”
- G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, part IV: “A Discussion at Dawn”
This cracked me up. I think no one knows this better than journalists themselves. Sometimes I finish writing a story and think it’s a good thing I don’t see the world through the lens of news for all 24 hours of the day.
Sometimes walking down the street for a cup of coffee is all it takes to set me right, especially living inside the Beltway. But I still love my job, and I’ll take my news and my city walks both, the drama of fiscal cliffs and Pakistani drone strikes along with the safe Mr. Wilkinsen and the living Mr. Jones.
p.s. This video, make by the Guardian, is a fun and thought-provoking way of looking at how a newspaper writes about a story and what can happen in the course of coverage.