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Trivia Pursuit: How Showbiz Values Are Corrupting the News

Iram Khan

in his latest book, Trivia Pursuit, Knowlton Nash critically looks at the news media of today and yesterday. As he states in the introduction, "It's a beautiful business, and one I honour, but it's a business in trouble because of its current obsession with immediacy, with the pursuit of trivia, with entertainment and gossip" (p. 9).

Triva Pursuit book cover Sure, I agree that the news media of today are more concerned with increasing "customers" and making more money through exploitation, but this book also reveals that this sort of ethic has existed since the telling of "news" first began. For example, in 51 B.C. the Roman Gazette included gossip on marriages, divorces, and adultery, and criminal activity. Another example is a group of Mesopotamian tablets that were inscribed in cuneiform script around 1500 B.C., revealed a political scandal in the town of Nuzu. The mayor was accused of theft, extortion, and having sex with a married woman.

What is really interesting with this book is Knowlton Nash's "insider" look at the CBC, particularly the news coverage on The National. Unfortunately, with the big dollars that are floating around, CBC can barely compete with the United States' news programs and its counterpart, CTV's news programs. CBC has also had to deal with more funding cutbacks just as the world of news has became larger with the entrance of the internet.

The internet, though, may be able to save the CBC news. Knowlton Nash points out that CBC in general has been pretty good at keeping its news respectful and "real" despite the heavy temptations constantly trying to pull them to the "other side." For example, according to Nash, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien carries a huge grudge from his conflicts with the CBC French network. He feels that they continually undermine him. More recently he was steaming mad when the English CBC network public-forum presented him as ill-prepared for the questions thrown at him. Chrétien felt he'd been set up. Nash concludes that the more recent, all time high budget-cutting at the CBC is no coincidence. However, the CBC still keeps going.

The internet is a great way to promote CBC's respectable journalism. Now finally we can go somewhere to get the "real" news. Since CBC has had more experience with this, a transition to providing the news online and keeping visitor numbers up, shouldn't be too difficult for them. There is room on the internet, unlike in television or radio, for both sensational news and respectable news to co-exist.

Thus, Knowlton Nash is critical, but he does see some hope in the future for news. Trivia Pursuit is an excellent book for a quick look at the evolution of the news media in Canada and the world.

published by mcclelland & stewart
ISBN 0-7710-6752-6

Iram Khan is a frequent correspondent on educational issues.

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