News v. gossip

By Josh Albrecht

News and gossip often are identified as the same entity. And to a certain extent, this is true. Gossip, however, exists as something that is gratifying and told with the truth not always known.

This subject was one that sat idle in my mind, never getting much thought. But this past week, the issue came to light and forced its way into my consciousness, or at least my subconscience. Now, I am mildly consumed by the distinction between news and gossip. I even watched the poorly made movie “Gossip” and almost cried.

What started it all was an article in the Sun-Times last week that declared pop queen Britney Spears had swore.

“Not just casually, like a sailor or one of those proverbial truck drivers, but purposefully, adamantly, confidently. And it was all caught on tape,” wrote Mike Thomas.

The article was accompanied by a dialogue box appropriately titled “Spears Speaks,” which directly quoted every nasty syllable she spoke. And I read every last nasty syllable that was on the page, but afterward couldn’t help but wonder why such a gossipy story received such high billing by a large, respectable newspaper.

Does it really matter that Britney used a few improper phrases?

She was only using the same words that 90 percent of us use virtually every day. And I have to be honest here, but I really don’t think this was the first time she ever swore. Plus, the article states she was backstage at one of her shows, and she was taped without her knowing it.

It is not like she threw around a few expletives on national television like, oh, perhaps the entire Baltimore Ravens team did during the Super Bowl introductions. Little kids look up to athletes just as much as musicians, but CBS decided to keep pumping out that audio feed filled with more swear words than a Thanksgiving dinner plagued by dry turkey.

So, I sent Britney Spears an e-mail, letting her know that she shouldn’t worry about the Sun-Times printing an article about her swearing habits. I told her that I swear, too, and that I highly doubt her fans care that she did it.

I haven’t received a response yet.

The main reason I thought it was silly to read a story about this incident was because it seemed more like gossip than news. I expected to hear about this sort of thing between songs on the radio, not in a newspaper. And, if it found its way into the newspaper, I would at least expect it to be a paragraph in the entertainment section.

But if it was only a paragraph, then I guess we wouldn’t have had that nice 8-by-10 picture of Britney in concert.

The other occurrence of gossip vs. news last week surfaced in an article in the Chicago Tribune about the Jesse Jackson love-child scandal.

I had heard about the story and quickly ignored it because it had the same interest as the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, but the Tribune article by Mike Conklin examined the impact of the National Enquirer on Jackson’s secret.

The Enquirer, one of the leading gossip newspapers, did some investigative reporting and broke the story well before anyone else did.

“There is that bump in credibility, plus a healthy leap in circulation,” Conklin wrote.

But even though this story has many political and social interests and affects one of our nation’s leaders, there is no way the National Enquirer will be taken seriously from now on. Sure, it has provided true stories on other political affairs and mishaps, but the reason it cannot or will not overcome its boundary of being a silly newspaper is because its primary focus is gossip.

And that is exactly what the Jesse Jackson story survives as. This story has nothing to do with how Jackson handles politics but with how he handles his family life, just like the Clinton-Lewinsky story was not about Bill’s ability to be president, but his private life.

Thus, that is the difference between news and gossip. News rests as important information that impacts and shapes all of us and therefore we should know about it. Gossip, on the other hand, remains interesting, but is none of our business.

That is not to say that gossip can’t lead to important news. After all, the Britney Spears article added that Britney declared her pants were too short.

Do I smell a Pulitzer Prize?