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Letters

Regarding Tim Stafford's "Show Biz Reporters and Jihad Journalism" (July/August 1996): As the news director for two radio stations in Chico, California, I have had occasion to scream in outrage when someone labels me a "journalist" (it doesn't happen very often). I am more a news packager, tying together and rewriting already brief headline stories from the Associated Press and the local daily newspaper. My news reports are a minute or so long, and most of my stories are two or three sentences. Aside from presenting the major news (often determined by that morning's New York Times and Wall Street Journal), I look for the offbeat story, especially one of malfeasance in high places (political or ecclesiastical). A kicker at the end and my report is finished. Other local radio stations are able to send reporters to news conferences and city council meetings, with the local television outlets desperately searching for something visual to lead off the night's newshour.

All of that, for better or worse, is what the public knows as "news." James Fallows's vision for "public journalism" is perhaps being realized by the public affairs programs usually aired at odd weekend times by local media. These programs, often a half-hour long, discuss the issues of the day with prominent local spokespeople and may even achieve some measure of enlightenment on the part of the listener or viewer. But that, in my mind and in the public's mind, is not "news."

The problem with the news biz is that there is too much information generated each day for anything but a superficial acknowledgment (and then it's on to the next news cycle). Certainly there are people who are trying to hide something and, thankfully, some journalists are called (and paid) to investigate, but the real difficulty is in picking wisely from the welter of "things that happen" each day.

There is so much detail that Cokie Roberts can only report on a general mood or strategy on Capitol Hill, and Sam Donaldson can only fulminate ...

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