Do You Need to Know These Five Things?
“Five Things You Need to Know,” reads the headline from this morning’s USA Today newspaper. What are those five things?
1. Waco police are investigating an incident in which rival biker gangs shot at each other.
2. The American Council of Sports Medicine has released its ranking in which it declares the fittest city in the United States to be Washington DC.
3. A fugitive has returned to Ohio to face charges 56 years after escaping a prison there.
4. The expensive Osprey MV-22 military aircraft has crashed again after a slew of cost overruns and equipment malfunctions.
5. The NBA draft of new basketball players is proceeding today.
Now, when I hear the words “things you need to know,” I imagine that the news I’m about to hear will fit one of two criteria, and hopefully both. First, it should be something that affects my life, the lives of people I care about, or the lives of a whole lot of people I don’t know. Second, it should be something I can do something to control. At best, the news “I need to know” provides me the information I need in order to make a decision about how to act individually or politically to change my circumstances or the world.
Four out of the five USA Today “Things You Need to Know” utterly fail the test of needfulness. Hardly anybody is affected by the Waco biker gang shootings. Nobody is going to move to DC because of the ACSM ranking. The fugitive and NBA draft stories are dramatic and boring as dirt, respectively, but they won’t change the lives of more than a handful of Americans and there’s nothing that anyone can do about them. They aren’t news, and so no, USA Today, I don’t “need to know” them.
The story about the expensive, crash-prone, cost-overrun Osprey MV-22, on the other hand, fits both criteria. It affects Americans to have these Ospreys in action — just ten of them soak up a billion dollars from the budget. We can do something about this, too. It’s too late for this year — at the beginning of May 2015 the House and Senate approved a military budget that featured $126 million for the Osprey MV-22 program. But if enough news stories spread about the expensively botched Osprey program, we can try to stop it next year.
Heads up, journalists. That’s the kind of story we Americans actually need to know. Everything else is a waste of space.