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Tags: obituary | cbs | newyorktimes | cronkite

There's Plenty of News Just Not Enough Space

There's Plenty of News Just Not Enough Space

(Sylvain Robin/Dreamstime)

Paul F. deLespinasse By Tuesday, 09 June 2020 02:35 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

It once was great fun to criticize newspapers for occasional typos or mixed up reports.

My favorite example was an obituary statement that "Mr. So-and-so was survived by the late Mrs. So-and-so."

Another favorite example: A newspaper headlined my column explaining why we could (to a considerable extent) trust the government: "Why We Can't Trust the Government."

Sniping at such small transgressions isn't fair any more, now that many reporters and editors have lost their jobs in recent years. Those remaining are worked to death, each doing work formerly done by several colleagues.

We should congratulate them for the good job they are doing under difficult conditions.

Still, it's tempting to poke fun at a recent New York Times development: retroactive obituaries.

These are obituaries for interesting people ignored by the Times when they died, sometimes decades ago. One might ask whether the Times should discontinue its long-time slogan, "All the News That's Fit to Print" since these obituaries admit it hasn't been doing that.

Actually, the retroactive obituaries are appropriate reminders of the inherent limitations of media organizations. Limited space makes it impossible for newspapers of national circulation like the Times to cover everybody who dies.

So they naturally mainly note the deaths of people who are famous or who are widely recognized as leaders in their professions.

Of course the Times, being the Times, is especially interested in remembering people whose deaths were neglected because they were women or minorities.

But it is also publishing belated obituaries for white men.

Unlike the Times, local newspapers often run obituaries for nearly everybody who dies in that area, since there are fewer people dying locally so space limitations are less of a problem.

Still, unlike Times stories, these are usually too short to do that person full justice.

Almost everybody who dies has his or her own, often fascinating, story.

In 2006 my father died at age 94.

The mortuary had messed up the obituary they wrote when my mother died, so I wrote my father's myself.

Although Dad was not prominent, his life was exceptionally interesting and my obituary made that very clear. In fact, it made him look so interesting that the Portland Oregonian decided to devote one of its weekly "life stories" (two-thirds of a full page) to him.

Unfortunately, space limitations make it impossible even for local papers to do lengthy stories about everybody.

And it is not just obituaries that suffer from this problem.

We need to remember that the media is forced to be selective in deciding what to report, and editors must use their judgment about what to publish.

This is not anybody's fault. It's just a fact of life.

The CBS News TV anchor Walter Cronkite used to end his "Evening News" broadcast saying "And that's the way it is." Although Cronkite was often called the most trusted man in America, his sign off formula was, of course, an exaggeration. Because of lack of TV time or newspaper space all reporters must decide what to cover and what not to cover.

Since reporters and editors in a free country will have differing evaluations of what is important, readers can get a more complete idea of what is going on by getting their news from more than one source.

But there will always be some important things than none of them will think to cover.

There is a lot going on the importance of which may only become apparent years or decades later. We all need to remember that not everything important is being reported.

No newspaper can contain "All the News That's Fit to Print." It might therefore actually be a good idea for The New York Times to remove this misleading slogan from its masthead.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan oregon, and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.

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No newspaper can contain "All the News That's Fit to Print." It might therefore actually be a good idea for The New York Times to remove this misleading slogan from its masthead.
obituary, cbs, newyorktimes, cronkite
Tuesday, 09 June 2020 02:35 PM
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