Stories with lasting power

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Have you ever skipped stones on the water of a pond? It's fun to do solo or in competition. You can't just pick up any old bit of gravel and expect it to hop across the water like a bullfrog after a dragonfly. You select your stones with the care of the shepherd boy, David on his way to slay Goliath. They must be round in one dimension, flat in the other or they'll sink like a rock at first contact.

Mass is important. A stone the size and weight of a dime is the right shape but it lacks momentum. Three, maybe four short hops and down it goes.

Choosing events to include in a news broadcast is sort of like choosing good skipping stones. If the story is short on mass, that is ability to hold viewers' attention, reject it. Your story must horrify for the best distance. Humour will work, but save it to the last or you may lose your viewers. Indignation is way ahead of titillation.

Take the story of senators with their fists firmly in the sugar bowl. This one has skipped on the airways ad infinitum for weeks. You'd think crime was rampant in the upper chamber, but stop and consider. What percentage of senators are getting the heat? Over 90% are either innocent or slipping under the searchlights of reporters. Less than four per cent are alleged to be guilty of picking taxpayers' pockets.

The government defends the four on the grounds guidelines are not clear. This raises hoots of derision, but wait. Who wrote the guidelines?

In a musical in Tillsonburg some years ago there was a team of four lawyers. After a string of language from one of the four, another said, "That doesn't make sense!"

Cam McKnight explained, "Of course not! We're lawyers."

In the writing of guidelines under the act, civil servants are as adept as lawyers at obfuscating the sense of their subsection 6 under paragraph XII of part C concerning the party of the third part.

When a senator is parachuted into a riding outside of his or her home province, wouldn't it be possible to think there must be a residence in the riding, and that it is the principal one when the senator is in residence in that riding? So what if it's only two weeks in a year? To answer this question would require an interpretation probably by a judge and make work for at least a couple of lawyers.

An optimist would decide in the case without seeking clarification on the old adage it's easier to get forgiveness than permission.

The current saga bears out this adage.

On the matter of the amounts allegedly embezzled, in the budget of government they are less than a mustard seed, but to the average taxpayer they appear like the bite of a great white shark. Media folk know this but who's going to kill the momentum of such a story?

It would be more constructive to concentrate on modifying attitudes.

In spite of the splatter of contempt bathing all senators, one party is reported to be hotly opposed to rewriting guidelines. Is this attitude being examined?

Television anchors who express alarm and disgust at the dishonesty of politicians show no sense of wrongdoing when file tape is used to illustrate a story as if it is on scene live. Nor do they hesitate on a slow news day to regurgitate an old report, especially in health news, as if it has just been reported from the labs.

 

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