What exactly do you mean by “pseudo event”?

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Pseudo events are a good thing to keep in mind when you are looking at the news of the day. Are you going to read more about a celebrity getting their photo taken at an airport or about new technology being revealed at a press conference? How about an interview of an author of a book that is being released next week? None of the above?

Not from The Onion: Peeved Mom Speaks Out.
Not from The Onion: Peeved Mom Speaks Out.

All of these are pseudo events, so yeah, technically not actual news.

I have no idea how I came to be in possession of a book about things that didn’t happen, but like a lot of scholarly word collections, it uses many words to say the same thing in many ways. The repetition was hypnotic. This is a pseudo event. That is a pseudo event. I never forgot the phrase and will throw it out there any time I think someone has lost sight of what actual events are.

In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America, Daniel Boorstin painstakingly explains from every angle why a press conference is not an event. (This applies to more than events in America, but all the examples are primarily from American history and news. It’s not like we invented the media circus here).

Any planned display that is designed to be covered by the media is a pseudo event. Awards? Yup. Premieres? Yup. Bombings? Kinda. They are planned events designed to grab media and public attention, just like the Oscars.

Spontaneous events are harder to capture and present clearly on a deadline. The reporters get pulled into the cycle of manufactured news and become lazy. Passing on press releases and quoting notables who conveniently step up to their microphones becomes good enough, except that it’s not.

Once you understand pseudo events, you will recognize how little news is in your news. Bounce around the web at “news” sites and see how long it takes you to find real news other than crime. Bless theguardian.com — they had one right away yesterday:

Drought causes 450-year-old Mexican church to emerge from reservoir

The article is short, charming and contains photographic evidence of a thing that happened.

David von Blohn-AP-from theguardian.com
David von Blohn-AP-from theguardian.com

The really big story was that winter is going to be horrible for all the refugees that are stranded in places like Serbia that aren’t prepared to have them. That’s not exactly news, I mean it’s basically “Winter Is Coming,” but it’s worthy of attention compared to “Eddie Murphy Finally Makes Cosby joke.”

Wouldn’t your time be better spent reading some well-researched feature that’s not necessarily the “news of the day”?

Just a little something to think about when you’re staring at your phone.


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