This started as a comment, but I decided to make it a separate post, because it kept getting longer and longer…
This came from an exchange in which Doug Ross chided Barry for his long comments telling about things that happen on the local or state level hundreds of miles from us, and writing about them as though they held national or even universal meaning. Doug called the figures in these stories “political nobodies.” Barry took exception to that terminology. I responded:
In defense of Doug here. I agree with his point, although I would use different words to describe it.
Whether he’s right to say “nobodies” or not, the fact is that these cases shouldn’t get the national attention they get.
There used to be a clear distinction between national (and/or world) news and local news, and everyone more or less understood the difference. Forty years ago, or certainly 50 years ago, people understood that you don’t make a big, national deal out of local news.
That distinction is largely gone now. A lot of thing have gone into making that happen. You’ll see that most of it had to do with changes in people’s information sources:
- The first step was 24/7 cable TV “news.” They had to fill every second of every day, and they couldn’t just talk about the same few legitimate national and international stories over and over all day. So they started filling some time with local news from everywhere, particularly quirky or shocking crime news. Gradually, people started to look upon those occurrences as having happened in their own communities, which is why people tend to have an exaggerated sense of the prevalence of crime.
- The nationalization of local and regional politics. As recently as 20 years ago, or certainly 30 (the GOP took over the SC House, and instantly turned it radically more partisan, in 1994), the SC Legislature did not act like Congress. They were more about South Carolina issues than the Beltway Talking Points. A number of things went into this, particularly the rise of Fox News, which had an enormous effect on the Republican rank and file voters, convincing them that the national talking points WERE the most important things locally. Mind you, Democrats were getting more and more this way as well, partly in reaction to the GOP, and partly as a result of being hooked on that 24/7 stuff themselves.
- The rise of the internet, which took the fire started by cable “news” and poured gasoline on it. The Rabbit Hole phenomenon, which I frequently mention, is a subset of this phenomenon.
- The more or less complete disappearance of local news sources. You have a number of subfactors under this one. One is that there are far, far fewer — in some areas, I’d say less than 10 percent of what you once had — journalists working on these levels. Another is that so many of these ghosts of newspapers and TV stations still put out a product, but they grab content from anywhere to fill their webpages — a phenom much like what we saw earlier with cable “news.”
To get back to where we started, these people who do awful things in communities far from us SHOULD be covered — by local newspapers and other outlets. And their neighbors in those communities should care. But things are messed up when WE, so far away, regard those things as significant, and nationally meaningful. That distorts everything, including our ability to deal effectively and helpfully with the actual world around us…