“Anniversary Journalism” Is Lazy And Often Pointless

It seems like every day you hear news stories about the anniversaries of an event.  Recently, we were treated to stories about the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.  There have been countless others.

This kind of “anniversary journalism” is, in my view, lazy journalism.  The ingredients of these stories are always the same.  It has to be a round number anniversary — one year, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years.  If the news story is on radio or TV, you play a clip of the recording of the event, and then you interview people who give their recollections and perhaps add a few recollections of your own.  The stories are simple to prepare and simple to produce — and there are an enormous number of “round number” anniversaries of events to choose from.

In addition to being lazy journalism, I also think that, with rare exception, these stories are pointless because the events being remembered actually have no continuing cultural or historical significance.  John F. Kennedy gave a memorable inaugural address, but his challenge to “Ask not what your country can do for you . . . ” obviously did not prevent the creation of our current political atmosphere that is so rife with pork barrel spending, earmarks, and special interest lobbying.  Why is it important that we relive the Challenger disaster and see, again, the ugly photos of the mid-air explosion that took the lives of its crew?  With all due respect to the crew members and their families, the reality is that the Challenger explosion did not change the focus or approach of the U.S. space program or have any other lasting impact.  It was just a bad thing that happened 25 years ago that I would rather not remember.  It has no more relevance to today’s America than the burning of the Hindenburg or the sinking of the Titanic.

We would be better served if our news media stopped its resort to these “anniversary stories” and instead focused on reporting the news about what is going on, today, in our country and in our world.

1 thought on ““Anniversary Journalism” Is Lazy And Often Pointless

  1. Nice post. A couple of exceptions come to mind:

    — Anniversary journalism can be lazy, just like any journalism. On the other hand, if used correctly and in a *limited* quantity, it can be a great tool for re-examining promises. Did that bridge inspection manual ever actually get rewritten? Are those dozens of abandoned wells north of town actually being recapped? It’s a good chance to find out whether our “never again” vows are coming to fruition or being ignored, and that’s often important.

    — It’s also a great chance to re-examine assumptions made right after the event. After the Hindenburg disaster, hydrogen in transportation became verboten. Only now, nearly two generations later, are people finally considering it a somewhat safe fuel for eventual use in automobiles. That’s partially thanks to anniversary pieces that have picked apart the idea of gasoline being significantly safer. Those anniversary pieces on the relative danger of petroleum are also having strong effects on the viability of hybrid vehicles, as those same anniversary pieces have rightfully shown the “battery-packs-aren’t-as-safe-as-a-giant-tank-of-highly-explosive-gasoline” argument to be laughable.

    So, to sum up, I’m not disagreeing with you — journalists truly often are lazy — but citing a couple of happy exceptions. Keep up the thoughtful analysis.


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