ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Next, essayist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune has some summertime thoughts about getting away from the news.
CLARENCE PAGE: The news hasn't been doing too well lately. I'm not talking about news events. I'm talking about the industry that covers the news. Americans aren't watching TV news like they used to. Even the cable news channels find themselves secretly longing for the salad days of the O. J. Simpson trial. Americans aren't reading newspapers the way they used to either. Here, in Washington, a major news center if ever there was one, this is a summer of discontent. A recent Washington Post headline, big and bold, said it all. "Dullsville," duller than usual. Of course, there is news.
There is always news. But the news isn't what it used to be. Remember the Cold War? It's over now. Remember economic anxiety and unemployment lines--gone. The economy is booming. Americans have gone back to work. Remember crime? It still happens, but it's down, way down. Even Times Square has been cleaned up enough to greet Walt Disney. Washington still has bad news but much of it sounds a lot like old news. Paula Jones, Kenneth Starr, John Huang, Charlie Trieh, Newt, old flaps and scandals in search of a new spin.
No wonder so many Americans have decided to take their own news break, a break from the news. One popular self-help author, Andrew Weil, suggests that we take a news fast from time to time, just say no to the news for a week or so to restore our physical and mental and emotional batteries. I viewed that news with alarm. After all, I'm a newsman. If you don't watch, I don't eat.
Besides, all news is good for something. Information is power, isn't it? But I had to face up to something. News is stressful, especially when it's about things which aren't very pleasant, which is almost always. I don't blame parents for putting their kids on a fast from local TV news. If news distorts reality, local TV news distorts reality absolutely.
NEWS ANCHOR: That was the woman who was car jacked, robbed, repeatedly stabbed, and then left for dead in the trunk of her burning car.
CLARENCE PAGE: America is witnessed by local TV as a PG-13 sort of place, a violent, corrupt, and oversexed Gomorrah unable to control its baser impulses, yearning to be wrestled to the ground. I too have taken news fasts from time to time, although I haven't called it that. I do it when I take vacations, just like I also take a break from pagers, cell phones, and fax machines, I love the news, but even I can have too much of this good thing.
Sometimes no news is a relief, especially in a summer of widespread contentment. Times like these make you long for a newsman of another era, the slow newsman, like Charles Kuralt, who took his time. He was the anti-news newsman. His beat avoided late-breaking developments to find old, enduring, and reliable in the heart of America's wealth of people and nature. He showed us the many wonders we could find all around us, like wild flowers in the spring, if we only took the time to take our time. "Speed," James Thurber once said, "satisfies a native American urge." But we have other urges too. Not enough good news? Slow down. Look around. Think fast.
I'm Clarence Page.