Newmann: The spinning wheel

“There’s good news tonight!” — Gabriel Heatter, radio commentator from the 1930s through the ’50s

Heatter’s classic sign-on for his radio broadcasts became a catchphrase for optimism (even when the country faced massive adversity). His commentaries were generally upbeat and tended to stress the positives.

We could probably use a Gabriel Heatter (or two or three) in our current environment. Seems like the bulk of the broadcasts and the articles that show up on a daily (hourly) basis tend to deal with the not-so-good to the downright terrible.

Now it’s not that a bunch of crummy stuff isn’t going on. That’s a gimme. But we tend to just roll from the weird to the more weird with little or no respite. No time to process what just happened before having to move on to the next “big” thing. Or, oftentimes, not moving on at all because the brain finally says, “Nope. No room for more of this stuff. Find some cartoons.” And then it just shuts down the news cycle assault altogether.

So it’s pretty easy to become immune to the daily slog through the headlines, the television talking heads, the radio “opinion” shows and any other form of journalism (or, all too often, non-journalism) that plays havoc with the space between the ears.

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This is certainly not to say that news should be sanitized. Far from it. We need to know what’s happening, who’s involved, where it’s happening, how it’s happening, and why it’s happening. The “why” aspect is probably the most confounding of all those “w” words. Because the “why” can be pretty subjective — and can also be spun in any number of directions.

Watch, listen to or read any number of sources reporting on an event and it’s possible to get any number of different interpretations of that single event. Objectivity is sometimes not a long suit. And the resultant effect can be “I don’t know what to believe.” Or to just simply turn it off. And tune out.

There’s also the repetition. We hear the same stuff on the same story over and over again. Odd infinitum. Until the next big story breaks. And then we get the same stuff over and over again. If you hung out with friends and they repeated themselves on a continual basis, you’d probably start asking yourself, “How much more of this can I take.” And the friendships might get, well, a bit frayed.

And then we all have our own personal lives … and, even in the most relaxed and carefree lives, there can be issues. Most of us don’t need to be hammered continually with outside noise. Especially when the volume of that noise just keeps increasing.

As mentioned above, objectivity in reporting is crucial. The use of a prejudicial adjective in a news story, the “smile” in the voice or the raised eyebrow of a broadcaster … these alone can have an influence on the reader, the listener or the viewer. So when there are full-on campaigns of spin under the masquerade of objectivity … well, again, how much can you take?

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Instead of telling the viewers and listeners the “why,” perhaps it’s time to start asking them “why?” Maybe get folks thinking. And engaged.

And let them digest what they’ve read, heard or seen.

That would be, as Heatter might say, good news.

Tom Newmann splits his time between Edwards and Queenstown, New Zealand. He has been going winter-to-winter since 1986. He was also a journalist in Missoula, Montana, at the Missoulian for quite a few years. Email him at

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