A lousy news director
After stints as the editor of three daily Arkansas newspapers over 46 years, I still would make a lousy national broadcast news director in 2018. I was reminded just how bad in late October following the terrible mass killing where a deranged gunman killed 11 and injured six, including four police officers, at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. This slaughter of innocents joins an already lengthy list of horrors committed by those whose elevator to reality rises no higher than their ground floor. What makes it even more regrettable is this won’t be the last time we will learn of these kinds of terrible crimes. Today’s broadcast and cable news cycles run 24/7, screaming to be filled every minute. I believe that as a purveyor of news with an enormous staff of reporters to rely upon, I’d apply a dash of reason and context to how my imaginary broadcast operation would cover mass shootings and other tragedies. For instance, since we live in a vast nation of 325 million people, my imaginary news would report such regional killings initially with as much information as available. At the same time, however, I’d expect reporters to continue supplying other relevant news of the day while breaking in with updates on the latest breaking news as additional facts are discovered. I would avoid repetitive speculations by all the chatty “experts,” obviously used to kill time. As radical as this may sound to some, I’d continue presenting the other significant news of the day, pausing for hourly updates for as long as necessary to report on valid developments. In short, I’d restructure the air time now devoted to predictable surmisings from talking heads, rambling commentary by news anchors, and constant repetition to other relevant issues. In doing so, I’d give my audience a reason to rely on our channel to cover many other stories unfolding that day. My theory is that while such a mass shooting in a house of worship is a major and tragic news event that must be adequately covered, it’s also not one the entire nation necessarily wants to hear repeated at the expense of other coverage over two straight days. That’s especially germane so near to a national election and with so much else newsworthy continually unfolding. It wouldn’t be as if my station wasn’t keeping abreast of the latest news from the most recent shooting. I just wouldn’t be treating this sad development as if it was the only day’s event that matters to my diverse and widespread audience. The shock and sensation of a mass murder provides obvious material to fill entire days if that’s a national newscast’s focus and intent. There is the familiar adage in this business: “If it bleeds it leads.” Yet I’d also ask myself: “But wall-to-wall for two days?” And at what cost to a national audience seeking to remain widely informed, especially should they have an alternative channel available that continues to cover myriad issues along with the shooting. Of course, listeners and viewers are free to shout, “Enough already!” and find relief in turning it off altogether. In fact, I did just that last week. So there you have it, my friends, the detailed reason ol’ Mike would make a terrible national TV or radio news director. Well, wait, there is another aspect worth considering. I’d not be immediately airing egocentric blatherings from on-air personalities and contributors about possible motives behind any killer’s murderous rampage. There’d be no surmising until facts are known, regardless of what the competition might prematurely allege. Capitalizing on shock at such emotional times to push a desired political agenda nationally is as bad as so-called news reporting gets.
Someone asked the other day if I could define an algorithm. The word keeps popping up in various references, including a method social media like Facebook use to make decisions. So I went searching in hopes of clearing the fog that envelops the odd word. What I found were explanations that seemed, well, borderline nonsensical. One definition: “An algorithm is a fancy to-do list for a computer. Algorithms take in zero or more inputs and give back one or more outputs. … The words ‘algorithm’ and ‘algorism’ come from the name of a Persian - - mathematician called Al-Khwarizmi … .” “Zero or more inputs” and “one or more outputs” is as clear to me as a Fudgsicle. So I sought something a bit more intelligible and discovered this explanation (Helpful suggestion: First take a big swig of coffee): “There is usually more than one way to solve a problem. There may be many different recipes to make a certain dish which looks different but ends up tasting the same when all is said and done. The same is true for algorithms. However, some of these ways will be better than others. “If a recipe needs lots of complicated ingredients that you do not have, it is not as a good as a simple recipe. When we look at algorithms as a way of solving problems, often we want to know how long it would take a computer to solve the problem using a particular algorithm. When we write algorithms, we like our algorithm to take the least amount of time so that we can solve our problem as quickly as possible.” You following this? Still awake? “In cooking, some recipes are more difficult to do than others, because they take more time to finish or have more things to keep track of. It is the same for algorithms, and algorithms are better when they are easier for the computer to do. The thing that measures the difficulty of an algorithm is called complexity.” Finally a word I understand and can agree with when it comes to explaining algorithms.