Taking the Reciprocal of the News

I was reading The Democrat and Chronicle the other day and, once again, was irritated by the kind of stories they cover. But then it hit me: the "news" is not about "what's going on" but "what are the exceptions to what's going on."

The story that made me think this was on page 2 of the first section — a rather prominent place for a news story. It was about a girl in Rhode Island who was run over by a school bus. It's thankfully rare that students are not killed (particularly in such an ironic way) but the article made a point of noting that the girl was not paying attention — she was apparently listening to headphones and looking at her cell phone.

Now as a pedestrian, a cyclist, and a driver, I know that motor vehicles are very dangerous. [Ok, maybe because I'm curious, I'm observant, and I rely on factual data to form my opinions … lots of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers don't seem to pay much attention … anyway …] So I wondered why this story was considered so important. It seemed to have to do with the girl being distracted — perhaps amplifying a commentary that youth are oblivious to the world around them today.

But then I realized that I should be looking at the "reciprocal" of the story — to look at what the norm was that this case was an exception. The norm is that children cross the street safely almost all the time, school buses rarely get in accidents with pedestrians, and if there is an accident involving a vehicle and a pedestrian, it is almost always the fault of the driver of the vehicle. (And by that, I'm referring to the fact that the driver, as the controller of a potentially deadly device, must guard against harming anyone at all times.)

So I took a look at the rest of the paper and found the same to be true. I couldn't find the articles from Saturday, but some of today's headlines are as follows: "Greece officer faces additional charges [of coercing sex from a woman]", "Teen testifies about alleged sexual attack by [former county legislator William C.] Bastuk", and "[Latasha] Shaw's 911 tape [of a call prior to being killed by a mob] played at trial".

None of these things are normal. They are all exceptional. As such, the news does nothing to inform the public about what is happening — they are claiming to do just that, but instead report only on exceptions. In doing so, most people I know believe that the world is this terrible and dangerous place when the opposite is really true.

My idea on all this is to start a paper called something like "The Rochester Mundane" that would report things like "100.0% of Rochester residents not murdered" (rounding from 99.98%) or that "police officers do not generally coerce sex," "legislators do not attack people," and "for most calls to 911, help arrives in time."

The first problem is that I don't have the time. The second is that it would be wildly unpopular. I mean, who wants to know about what's really going on?

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