The news story of the year

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Get ready to read various wrap-ups of the best stories of the year. This is a standard ploy used by editors around the globe to draw attention to their work. And why not? We all look for some perspective on the news: what is it that really matters, makes a difference, has significance.

I was an editor once myself. On my desk was this quote: “An editor's job is to separate the wheat from the chaff and then, throw away the wheat.” From my reading of the press this is pretty much standard practice.

We get human interest, not in-depth coverage of events that affect our lives. Hollywood stars get photo coverage, but the link between intellectual property rights, and the spread of the AIDS virus in Africa is neglected.

The real stories of the year are not written or covered very well. In English Canada this has got worse, as U.S.A. Today journalism has moved from the Sun chain, to Canwest Global, to The Globe and Mail. One searches for background, context, reportage. It can be found frequently in the Guardian, or Le monde, why not here?

My answer is that the world of thought has been fractured. Novelists, political writers, journalists and academics are separated from each other. What language should unite, institutions cut off from contact. The Austrian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature remarked in a recent interview that it was novelists and other artists who spoke out on political issues in Austria. The academics had gone off among themselves, she said, like so many chickens content to stay cooped up away from the foxes.

University research is seldom reported on, so academic knowledge becomes off limits, and most professors are discouraged from attempting to cross the line into the public press, which, ironically, has defined "public" so as to exclude the world of ideas.

The great French intellectuals practiced several arts. By turn, they were journalists, novelists and political essayists. Simon de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, Gide were part of a single world of thought and could choose to address it using different literary forms.

The CBC expects us to take Peter Mansbridge interviewing Paul Martin as a way of marking news gathering at years end. How much more interesting it would be to hear from Canadian artists about the state of our lives and theirs. Margaret Atwood has often contributed a Christmas story to The Globe. A political novelist, social philosopher and scholar, she deserves to be heard more often, and on more topics.

My candidate for news story of the year is Canadians rejecting the U.S. plans to fight missiles with missiles. This story has legs. What the press call missile defence is in fact a U.S. attempt to develop a first strike capacity for nuclear weapons. If the U.S. can shoot down incoming missiles, they can attack without fear of reprisal.

Paul Martin and the Liberals have been spinning away on this story for months. The U.S. are going ahead whatever we do; by joining them we lose nothing, and may gain a capacity to influence the program; our Norad commitments require us to follow suit, or leave the alliance; we are opposed to the weaponization of space, etc. etc.

If they keep it up — the lying, that is — the Liberals themselves will become the story of the year. Why the subservience to George W. and the Americans? Who does Martin owe in Washington? Why does Canada not forcibly decry the escalation of the arms race?

The editors of the world will have much to choose from this year for the year end specials. Report the news to the public — now there is an idea worth pursuing every day.

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