Q: Why would a news outlet run a story that is both unimportant and uninteresting?

A bored student from 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)


One of my personal mantras, as a writer and a teacher of writing, is that there are no boring stories, just boring writers. If a given news item is universally uninteresting, it’s likely that whoever produced it simply wasn’t an engaging storyteller or didn’t know his or her audience well enough to package the story for them.

As Kovach and Rosensteil describe in the Elements of Journalism, news outlets operate under the theory of an “interlocking public.” This means that John might be very interested in what’s happening with the financial markets, while Sally cares more about international affairs, Carol follows sports, and Oliver likes the arts. But they all read the same paper. So how does that work?

If a newspaper is doing its job well, it will satisfy each of those individuals with sufficiently deep coverage of the topics they care about while, ideally, drawing the three hypothetical people I just named to stories they might not have thought they’d be interested in. In other words, Carol may have opened a news app (or an actual physical paper!) to read about the Patriots game, but the compelling headline and great lead of a story about Venezuela soon draws her into a story that Sally might have been more immediately drawn to, and vice-versa.

To repeat: rarely should any news outlet produce pieces that are of neither importance nor interest to its audience, but if it happens, it’s most likely the fault of either the writer, for framing the story poorly, or the editor, for making a bad judgement call on a story that the outlet’s audience won’t care about.

And just to illustrate the value of stories that aren’t exactly important but are definitely interesting, here’s one example that went viral on social media just last week:

This article went viral on Twitter and other platforms over the past week.

But guess what! The story offers another useful lesson as well: Do your due diligence! Now more than ever.

It turns out this didn’t just happen; it simply just went viral. In fact, this story is from 2012, and it was covered fairly extensively then, but social media has a short memory, and stories from years ago often resurface and get presented as “new.”

We’ll discuss this in later classes, but for now just focus on whether a story that might not seem important is, nevertheless, interesting, and if an uninteresting story seems important, ask yourself how the writer/producer/editor might have made it more interesting. And try not to get lost.