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Press gives us dessert instead of main course

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

I'm not going to be a hypocrite.

Here's something that most reporters and august journalism professors would never admit reporters love gossip.

We love hearing inside stories because we think that such info gives us an edge, and many times that is the case.

But there are levels of gossip. A source speaking off the record or on background is essentially gossiping. A good reporter has to confirm that information in order to print it with a good conscience.

Speaking off the record is one kind of gossip, and another is found in the more traditional gossip column and publications such as The National Enquirer.

The legitimate offspring of gossip is celebrity reporting, which, once upon a time, was confined to certain kinds of magazines or areas of a newspaper.

Now most people in the press like to speak to famous people. I know I do. But I know that to have such a piece in these newspapers I have to firmly anchor the story with a local angle. It needs to be relevant to our readers.

Three recent events show the level that gossip and celebrity reporting have risen in the press: the Michael Jackson trial, the "runaway bride" story, and Tom Cruise's courtship of Katie Holmes.

Of these three stories, only one is actually a real story and that is the Jackson trial because it involves a group of charges of child molestation.

The "runaway bride" hardly deserved national press. It's a regional story at best that a young woman with clear emotional problems caused havoc within her family and cost her local town thousands of dollars in police overtime because she had cold feet before her big wedding.

And Tom Cruise's engagement is worthy of one story, sure, but not the unrelenting coverage it has received. Anyone who buys this public love story as being about emotions and not about publicity for a movie is a hopeless romantic.

The problem is that these stories crowd out real stories that actually impact our lives.

Daily papers love these stories because they can obtain the stories from their wire service so they're cheap and they attract readers. They're "sexy," as they say in the trade.

It's easier for an editor to take a story a publicist hands him or her than to worry about whether or not your reporters find something on their own. It's cheaper to get something off of a wire.

Log onto and you'll see what I mean. There is a list of national and international stories that have been buried that should be read.

Are they "sexy?" Sure. How about "Extreme Weather Prompts New Warning from UN" or "Media and Government Ignore Dwindling Oil Supplies" or "High Levels of Uranium Found in Troops and Civilians?"

Now these are real stories.

The problem is that real stories cost money to produce. Publicists manufacture celebrity stuff and spoon feed it to the press. In an era where nearly all media outlets are told to keep their costs down, it's easy to understand why so many celeb stories find their way off the gossip page and into news sections of your paper.

So the next time Tom Cruise is yakking about his wonderful woman or Katie Couric is soulfully looking at someone like the "runaway bride" as she asks "Why?" ask yourself if this pabulum is really making a difference in your life.

The gossip stuff is like dessert, but too many media outlets have decided that hot fudge sundaes need to be the main course.

You know the drill. These are my opinions alone. Send your comments to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.