Newspaper stories that waste time and energy

Updated below

When I was a young editor, I used to roll my eyes at the older editor who restricted us to one photograph in October of pumpkins and who would promote stories about medical conditions affecting older people (like him), such as dementia and prostate cancer.

Naturally, when I became the older editor, I had my own quirky pet peeves. I don’t care for weather stories. Unless it is a heavy snow storm that keeps people in their homes or temperatures above 105 and people are dying, it is just weather. People know it. Besides, local TV, with their weather reports every few minutes, own weather anyway. Why waste staff time and space writing about it?

Another is marking the increase or decrease of gas prices with a story. If you drive, you know, generally, what the price of gas is. It’s gone up a nickel per gallon in the past seven days. OK. I got that when I gassed up yesterday. Use that staff time to tell me something useful..

A third are stories about the fluctuations in the stock market. Goes up 100 points or down 100 points, investors who care about that information on a day-to-day basis know it already. And while I’m wandering down this dark and ugly path, the release of the monthly unemployment figures don’t do much for me, either. Changes of .2 percent don’t help me understand what’s happening in the local economy.

Oh, we wrote those stories, partly out of habit, partly out of lack of imagination and partly to fill the paper. But I never kidded myself that they were of great use to the reader. It took me awhile to understand that that type of news had become a commodity — that the Weather Channel,, any of a zillion stock websites and cable channels could deliver specific bits of information people want better than the local newspaper.

It wasn’t a leap to understand that we could use our staff better telling people things they don’t know about.

What other stories are printed in papers or aired on television that aren’t immediately helpful to you?

(Hat tip to Teresa Prout and Ben Villarreal for reminding me of my often irritating news judgment.)

Update: Some good contributions from friends:

Angie Muhs — Most anniversary stories

Guy Lucas — Quarterly earnings stories

Luis Perez — Stories rating “the most stolen cars”

And I’ll add two more: Holiday shopping stories and holiday traffic stories.


8 thoughts on “Newspaper stories that waste time and energy

  1. I’ve never been crazy about any of those stories, but I think the third category in particular may actually be HARMFUL rather than simply not useful. When we focus obsessively on short-term indicators and what the stock market did today or even in the past hour, we exacerbate the problem of everybody focusing on short-term gains (must make stock prices go up!) versus the long haul (building long-term sustainable businesses that will never increase 500 percent in value over the course of a year or have $30 million IPOs, but that will perform well year after year and provide a stable economic foundation for the community).

  2. You didn’t mention quarterly earnings stories. Not the stories about a company defying expectations or plunging into unforeseen trouble, but the routine frigging quarterly report.

  3. John, here is mine: The yearly, obligatory Puxatawney Phil story. I just severely can’t stand that and wish the whole tradition would just go away.

    I also made fun of the tips for hot weather, tips for cold weather thing way back.

    But I have to tell you, I like weather stories a lot if you use some imagination. I was kind of proud of the story I did for the N&R during a heatwave — I followed an air conditioner repairman around all day long and just told about his day.

    And at the Charlotte Observer, we did a 100 degrees, 100 stories package that was a lot of fun. My little vignette was about a dude at the Y sitting in the sauna wearing a jumpsuit while it was a frickin’ 100 degrees outside.

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