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greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement


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what makes a story go national, or international?

Certain incidents and events become known across a nation where many or most people are aware of them, thinking, talking and feeling about them. Here in the U.S. I can think recently of the trial of George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin as one such story, and Miley Cyrus's appearance at the VMA awards where she "twerked" vigorously as another. One international story is the problems of Greece, and I imagine Barack Obama's election made some waves in other countries (did it?) What is it that makes certain stories get many people's attention and awareness? Is it that there's a lot of emotion in the events involved? Is it that something in the story impinges on many other people's lives, and how does that work? Perhaps there are different factors for why different stories become prominent?

For those in other than the U.S., what stories have gone national in your country?


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    Dec 23 2013: I think, whatever tends to cause intense emotions gets attention. And that can be reduced to very few categories. Sex and suffering are two things that, perhaps cause the most intense response. The "sex" category includes naked celebrities, twerking Miley Cyrus, Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The "suffering" category includes violent crimes, atrocities, acts of terror, fatal accidents, natural disasters, school shootings. Some events have a "lucky" combination of sex and violence - rape crimes (Ariel Castro, for example). Zimmerman story is a gold mine. Besides being a story of a violent killing (suffering), it touches on issues of race and gun rights. Gun rights are related to violence (suffering again). Race is related to personal identity. People are extremely sensitive to issues related to their identity. This is why issues of race, immigration, and religion also tend to grab attention. Obama these days is associated with healthcare, healthcare is related to sickness, sickness - to suffering.

    I think, this covers a vast majority of what gets coverage. May be, I'm over-simplifying it, like Freud.

    Funny cats seem to be out of the "sex and suffering" category, but, I think, they are still in "intense emotional response" category.
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      Dec 23 2013: I'm trying to think, Arkady, have there been national news stories involving sex that didn't involve celebrities?

      It's true that suffering would be involved in many high-awareness news stories, but there are many stories of suffering that never become national news, right? What is the difference in the stories that do?

      There probably is an aspect of happiness in most stories that go national, wouldn't you think? For example, in the twerking story we might say that there is a happiness for Miley in that she is dancing in a way that gives her pleasure, and could give others pleasure?
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        Dec 23 2013: Celebrities are covered by definition. Others - by chance. I think, the process of getting wide attention is somewhat random. Certain stories have larger probability of getting wide attention. But what actually gets attention can be random as well. You know that "viral" things (and most of the social phenomena) are systems with positive feedback. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_feedback Such systems pick up random noise and amplify it to the maximum. Try holding a microphone close to the speaker. It's true that not all noise gets aplified - only certain frequencies resonating with something inside the system. I think in news coverage there may be an analogy of this "resonance" - the stories must "resonate" with public. I'm not sure how to define this. I just feel that there is an analogy.

        In most cases, the public response is calculated. The Miley Cyrus video is a great example. I think, it's not an "accident" by any means. The public reaction was carefully calculated. This was a brilliant way to raise a teen celebrity to the status of national celebrity. People who never watched Hanna Montana and barely know who she was now know, for sure. Even people who are disgusted and outraged by her performances watched the videos and followed the news - for the very reason that they are disgusted and outraged. Others - out of curiosity. Many people think, she ruined her career. I don't think so. I think, she just started it.

        I don't think, Cyrus story brings people happiness. I think, celebriy scandals get attention because many people envy "the rich and the famous" and they enjoy reading about their misery - drug problems, cellulitis, divorces, arrests, scandals. I don't envy celebrities at all and these stories do not interest me. But I can understand how they work and why they are getting published.
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          Dec 24 2013: Arkady, would you mind clarifying the hold the microphone next to the speaker thing? You mean hold it next to the speaker when no one is speaking into the mike, or no sound is coming into the mike? But you're saying in that case you would hear something? What would it be?
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        Dec 24 2013: It's an example of a positive feedback system. The microphone picks up the noise coming out of the speaker which gets aplified and sounds through the speaker louder then it is picked up by the microphone and gets aplified again and sounds through the speaker even louder, etc.
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          Dec 25 2013: thank you. Well, I'm still thinking, Arkady, that many stories that go national pose an argument within them where large numbers of people can line up on either side. For example, the Trayvon Martin case had large numbers of people believing Zimmerman should be found guilty, and large numbers thought not guilty. Thus these people could dialogue and debate with each other. Miley Cyrus is the same way, some think her dance is totally acceptable, others don't, thus they can debate with each other. Does my analysis do anything for you?

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