Thursday, November 29, 2007

A test for 'national' news

All categories of grownup news coverage in traditional mass media are under pressure these days: Space is declining, newsrooms are cutting back on original nonlocal reporting, "soft" (mostly celebrity) news is claiming a greater and greater share of resources, and news execs are increasingly likely to rationalize their decisions by noting that, well, anybody who really wants to know about the world at large can find it on the Internet somewhere.

That makes this case a particularly good one to watch if you want to know where "national" news is going. There's no shortage of stuff from around the nation, if by "national" you mean missing moms in Michigan, missing students in Kansas, missing pregnant women wherever, and assorted forms of gooey episodic death. What we tend not to have is a warning system that goes off loudly when some event in some distant state hits a bunch of substantive (i.e., non-missing-pregnant-mom) buttons at once. As in:

State science curriculum director resigns
Move comes months before comprehensive curriculum review

The state's director of science curriculum has resigned after being accused of creating the appearance of bias against teaching intelligent design.

OK, weak choice in the secondary display type (there's what you might, erm, call a much stronger angle in the third graf: In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation). But in all, a well displayed and nicely reported -- let's hear it for newspapers that think a state FOI law is for kicking open doors with, not for hanging on the wall -- first-day story.

The test is going to be how prominently it's played on the wires. The AP -- at least, the state wire in Texas -- has had the story since Thursday morning. But it has a number of hoops to jump at the agency before it even becomes a decision for your local paper. (If you think any of this is new, go back and read what A.J Liebling wrote 60 years ago about the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation.) If your national news buffet over the next couple days is all Cop's Missing Wife and Missing Student's Secret Porn Life, with no hint of Creationists Sandbag Texas Education Official Who Stepped Out Of Line, you're justified in asking some questions.


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