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Jewish World Review Oct. 15, 2003/ 19 Tishrei, 5764

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Read less Kobe, take fewer showers | In Kobe news today, we'll have no news.

That's essentially what a small Colorado newspaper announced to its readers last week in one of the most refreshing moments in recent journalism history.

In a front-page editorial on the day of Kobe Bryant's preliminary hearing on rape charges, the Aspen Daily News told readers the paper wouldn't be publishing any more daily Kobe news unless something decisive or relevant to local readers transpired.

No more titillating details of the alleged rape, in other words. No more rumors, suppositions or innuendos. Alas, no more smut.

"Starting today, the Aspen Daily News will cease its coverage of the Kobe Bryant rape case," began the editorial.

Whereupon thousands of cheering residents swarmed the streets. Mothers wept as children emerged laughing and dancing from boarded-up homes, ripping blinders from their eyes and plugs from their tiny ears. Fathers high-fived each other, exclaiming, "Great Gawdamighty, there are decent people left in the press after all!"

OK, maybe not. But what did happen was almost as interesting. Scores of grateful readers wrote, e-mailed or called the paper to praise the decision. Journalists, on the other hand, wrote harrumphingly, expressing deep concern about the Potential Ramifications for the Future of Journalism.

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Even the paper's owner, journalist Dave Danforth, fired off an e-mail to editor Rick Carroll saying, "What's the point?"

The point, according to Carroll, was that the media mob attending events such as the Kobe Bryant hearing are a distorting influence. The herd mentality of the media forces reporters to strive not for what matters, but for what sells - that "juicy tidbit."

"The result is an endless stream of stories on every possible aspect of the case, and a resulting amplification of its importance that goes far beyond the appropriate response," went the editorial. "At the same time the sheer wall of noise drowns out the more measured news judgment of many reporters and editors. The human element becomes secondary."

It was a high road to take, but one that many journalists, including Danforth, find distressingly self-important.

"By that standard, we would not be covering Arnold," said Danforth in a telephone conversation with me. "Then we're playing God. Doesn't the Kobe Bryant case add something to the discussion of sexual abuse in our culture?"

Sure it does. But it also adds something to the overwhelming prurience of our culture, which most likely is what prompted many readers to salute the paper's decision. Americans are tired of feeling like they need a shower after reading the newspaper or watching the evening news.

They're also disgusted by pack journalism, but aren't we all? Trust me, it is not special to be one of 200 reporters lining up for a number to enter a courtroom. It is not deeply rewarding to sit for hours on a hard bench breathing stale air, trying to stay awake for the one sentence that will make a decent lead.

Pack journalism is merely the natural result of competition, as Danforth puts it. Inarguably, not liking the messenger doesn't change the value of the story, which we measure by asking the "so-what" question. Do people care whether Kobe Bryant has to stand trial for rape?

My guess is that yes, they do, and they can find out by flipping on the television, turning on their computers or picking up the other in-town daily. I doubt a single person in Aspen waited until they could pick up their free copy of the Daily News to find out what happened in the Eagle County Courthouse on Thursday.

Which is the larger point for Rick "Quixote" Carroll. As editor of a small independent newspaper, he was rebelling against the corporate, homogenized media we all love to hate.

"Call me a hopeless romantic," he said, "but ... one reason we did it is because we could."

And because Carroll wants to focus on more important stories that have greater relevance to his readers' lives.

Danforth couldn't agree more with that point, which is why he promises his high-minded minions a visit to "news purgatory." He says he plans to assign staffers to deeply important stories requiring lots of unsexy digging and untitillating legwork in order to satisfy their apparent hunger for more meaningful journalism.

Meanwhile, this local decision probably doesn't portend any ramifications for journalism, except to suggest a small flicker of the idealism that once stoked reporters' bellies. For me, the notion that one editor in one small town should decide that he can put out a quality newspaper without the day's fix of voyeurism and sex - inviting the nuclear winter of journalism's peer review - makes me want to hoist a toast.

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