Magazine article The Quill

Measure Your Own Conduct

Magazine article The Quill

Measure Your Own Conduct

Article excerpt

Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in "The Image: A Guide to PseudoEvents in America" (1964) that when Public Occurrences appeared in 1690, "The responsibility for making news was entirely God's-or the Devil's. The newsman's task was only to give `an account of such considerable things as have arrived unto our Notice:" That, wrote Boorstin, is now a very old-fashioned way of thinking. He observed:

We need not be theologians to see that we have shifted the responsibility for making the world interesting from God to the newspaperman. We used to believe there were only so many "events" in the world. If there were not many intriguing or startling occurrences, it was no fault of the reporter. He could not be expected to report what did not exist.

Within the last hundred years, however, and especially in the Twentieth Century, all this has changed. We expect the newspapers to be full of news. If there is no news visible to the naked eye, or to the average citizen, we still expect it to be there for the enterprising newsman. The successful reporter is one who can find a story, even if there is no earthquake or assassination or civil war. If he cannot find a story, then he must make one-by the questions he asks of public figures, by the surprising human interest he unfolds from some commonplace event, or by the "news behind the news." Boorstin concludes:

"There was a time when the reader of an unexciting newspaper would remark, `How dull is the world today?' Nowadays, he says, `What a dull newspaper."'

In 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis published The Right to Privacy in the Harvard Law Review. They wrote:

The press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and of decency. Gossip is no longer the response of the idle and the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry as well as effrontery.... To occupy the indolent, column upon column is filled with idle gossip, which can only be procured by intrusion upon the domestic circle. This article contributed to the creation of the legal concept of privacy in the United States that eventually developed into four main torts that, for reporters, affect the gathering as well as the reporting of information: public disclosure of private information, intrusion, false light and appropriation.

However, public figures and celebrities, one argument now goes, must accept that by virtue of their status as public figures and celebrities, they have sacrificed their privacy.

Members of the public, too, have shown an increasing willingness to surrender their privacy-in TV confessional talk shows, America's funniest home videos, letters to advice columnists, etc.

With these observations, Trevor Brown, clean of the Journalism School at Indiana University, reflected on the thoughts of Boorstin, Brandeis and Warren as he led some of the members of the Indiana faculty in a discussion of the life and death of Princess Diana. …

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