What our news says about us

Adam Griffiths

Chances are you were intrigued by this column’s headline and that’s why you decided to read on.

But why did you read on? What motivated you to get this far? What is it about certain things that interest us, and what does that say about who we are?

Two weeks ago, the U.S. edition of Time featured a mock Cliffnotes edition of the Bible with the headline, “Why we should teach the Bible in public schools.” For the rest of the world, on Time‘s European, Asian and Southern Pacific editions, the cover of the magazine read “Talibanistan” highlighting a cover story about the real situation in Afghanistan more than five years after the United States invaded the country in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence. During the last week of February, issues featuring an in-depth story about America’s ongoing battle over abortion graced newsstands at home, while a piece on minority integration was featured for European readers. While we were fed a user’s guide to the brain in January, readers in Europe and Asia learned about the effect of the floundering American economy on the international community.

A variety of covers is not always the case, either. Covers featuring stories about China’s rise as a commercial giant, the YouTube revolution and global warming made the cut across all of Time‘s four editions.

So who gets to make the call on what stories will catch your eye the next time you’re waiting to check out at Target or sitting in a waiting room somewhere, and how do they come to these conclusions?

Look no further than the top brass at each and every periodical. Front and cover pages are no light matter. Editors consider reader demographics, readership trends, significance and timeliness when deciding the content that they hope will attract you to their publication.

But when the editors of Time feel it would be in the best interest of their magazine and readers to highlight a story that is rooted in such obvious Christian theocracy, it speaks volumes more about those who are reading and subscribing to the magazine than those who are producing it.

It’s a 21st-century spin on the age-old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” In this, it’s about judging the reader by the cover of the book he or she is reading. It’s about judging a nation based on the news it is served and the news it consumes.

And we don’t have the best track record for demanding hard news. We fill our news pages with celebrity gossip and political muckraking. Anna Nicole Smith and the Hilton sisters are more likely to get dominant play than the latest bill working its way through the legislative branch.

So when we look at the covers of the publications we read, we’re really seeing a reflection of ourselves. Not ourselves individually, but the message we as a nation send to those who are in a position to feed us information. Are we happy with it? The answer to that can be found in the millions of blogs that people everywhere start themselves to combat a news judgment that they don’t feel accurately represents them. But do we accept it? The answer to that can be found on each and every newsstand across the United States.

Adam Griffiths is a freshman magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].