Wednesday, September 07, 2005


For those who think of it as a trade, journalism has no fancy laws or corrolaries. It's all blitz-kibbitz-copy-fits; no thumbsuckers on What It All Means or Why It's Important To You, The Reader.

But those who view journalism as a craft know there are several rules and principles governing the first rough draft of history.

There is Knoll's Law of Media Accuracy: Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true except for that rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge.

Long's 40th Note: Tilting at windmills hurts you more than the windmills.

Zellar's Law: Every newspaper, no matter how tight the news hole, has room for a story on another newspaper increasing its newsstand price.

But the bedrock principle governing journalism is this: All news is relative.

We call it Lou's Law -- named after the late, great newspaper editor Lou Ziegler -- because we first heard it from his lips. Just as time and space are relative concepts, so is news. The events that create news may be absolute, but the size of the news depends on other, seemingly unrelated events.

In 2001, Rep. Gary Condit (and the missing intern he may or may not have diddled) was Huge News -- until a Tuesday morning in September intruded.

All news is relative.

A story you know belongs on the front page doesn't make the cut and is instead buried as a brief on 13A because other events intrude (sometimes the story isn't printed because of Jan's Corrolary: Editors can be idiots. But we digress).

We bring this up because Bob Denver deserves better than an Oh-By-The-Way obit. If Hurricane Katrina hadn't pulled a kerplunk on New Orleans, Gilligan would be Page 1 news. Bet on it.

William Rehnquist would be getting better play on the news, too, but we're not as broken up about that one. In the end, Rehnquist was never able to create a fearsome Rehnquist Court and wound up on the losing side of a lot of 5-4 decisions. Denver, however, created the sitcom slacker character and ruled syndicated television for the past 40 years. And while Gilligan has now joined the Skipper, the Millionaire and his Wife, he remains a fixture on the tube. Even death cannot stop his mighty reign.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Relative indeed. In 1961 one of my favorites, Janis Joplin, was slated to be on the cover of TIME. Just before the magazine went to press, Dwight Eisenhower died and he became the cover subject. Joplin wailed, "Why did he have to die in MY week?"