Before you read this story, do me a favour. Go onto the BBC News Twitter feed, and open the comments section for any story about a minor topic. You know the kind, internet meme articles, posts on celebrity clothing styles, cat and dog facts, that sort of thing.
If you do, you’ll almost inevitably see hordes of people screaming at the publication about how they’re wasting their time with this topic, and how said celebrity’s dog clothing or whatever is less important than climate change, the fires in Australia or whatever the big issue of the day is. As if every media outlet in the world should be laser focused on one subject alone, and that anything outside of that remit is a waste of their time.
But here’s the thing. That’s not the case. Because in all actuality:
News publications are not limited to one story at a time. In fact, they’re not limited by covering these stories at all.
Since for the most part, they have multiple staff members that focus on different topics. There are journalists whose speciality is politics, ones specialising in news about games or tech, and ones who write about other topics like sports, music, fashion, celebrity gossip or whatever else the publication may cover.
As a result, it doesn’t matter that the BBC covers Boris Johnson’s dog, or that CNN covers a fad diet. The resources they’d otherwise use for things like the Brexit debacle and the fires burning in the Amazon rainforest are not being diverted away from said topics.
It’s like how BuzzFeed has both the jokey online quizzes and listicles and the more serious ‘news’ site. Both can co-exist just fine, since the people who work on the former and the people who work on the latter are on entirely different teams dedicated to that one thing.
And even if they were the kind of site that was small enough to not have separate teams, the issue would still stand. They’ve got multiple journalists on call to cover different things, and the choice of topic for one journalist doesn’t necessarily affect the content covered by another.
If Tom covers Brexit, Dick covers the Amazon rainforest and Harry covers a long lost dog found in Chelmsford, that doesn’t really affect anything for the worse. You get two stories on serious topics, and one on a less serious one. That’s it.
Still, let’s move away from the BBC and other large broadcasters for a moment, and go to a smaller one. Perhaps one with two editors. Surely that publication would be better off covering the more ‘serious’ story, right?
Not necessarily. In fact, said publication may be significantly better off covering something entirely different.
That’s because not all publications and journalists are born equal, and not all of them have as much knowledge or experience in every topic. Instead, they all have specialities.
So what do you think makes more sense for them to cover? A topic they actually have some knowledge about? Or some other subject they have little experience in and would likely get horribly wrong?
Personally I’d say the former. A games journalist is much better placed to talk about Super Smash Bros Ultimate than climate change, a sports journalist likely knows more about Premiere League fixtures than Trump’s impeachment, and a film critic’s time is likely better spent reviewing the next Bond movie that investigating a Colobian drug cartel.
Add to this how much misleading, anti scientific bullshit has gone viral due to experts in one topic thinking of themselves as qualified in many others (like William Dembski‘s work promoting ‘Intelligent Design (creationism)), and it could even be argued that journalists and publications trying to cover things they have no idea about might bring about more harm than good.
So stop panicking whenever a news site talks about some ‘unimportant’ issue, and accept that specialities do exist in the world of journalism, just like they do anywhere else. Not every writer and outlet needs to spend their entire career focused on Donald Trump, climate change or whatever other issue is the ‘big deal of the day’ right now.
Thanks for reading!