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What you really need to know about ‘need to know’

Spoiler alert: Not as much as you're led to believe

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

Like most things that vex or disturb me, this one probably was hawked up by some marketing consultant employed by a multinational media conglomerate: “Subject A: Here’s what you need to know!”

It’s all the (out)rage. 

Just last week my old employer in the (ahem) Emerald City put out a series of social media shouts centered around the Major League Baseball draft, of all things, including this humdinger: “What you need to know about Mariners’ No. 30 pick, high school shortstop Tai Peete!”

Obvous truth: Absolutely nothing. There’s about a one in 10 chance the kid will ever set foot on the grass at Taxpayer Deception Field down in SoDo, and even if he did … sorry.

To backtrack a few inches: Of course, if you define “need” as “need to be conversant on the last stool in a cinder block sports tavern,” that’s a slightly different thing. But words matter, and in my editor’s world, that’s more of a nice-to than a need-to. 

It just is.

The “need” fad would be amusing if not so ubiquitous: “Couscous salad brimming with vegetables is an ode to summer joy. Here’s what you need to know about the recipe” (The Washington Post, where Democracy Dies in Exotic Wheat Hyperbole.)

Clearly, our peers are using the word “need” very loosely. It’s at the center of the extremely unsettled argument in our field during the past decade (in which the business “need” to attract eyeballs is very real) about clickbait journalism: where the line of respectability is drawn between true Need, capital N, in a public-service way, and “need” as in prurient interest, sheer titillation and instant holy-cow mental gratification, for which we all clearly are prewired.

It was an open secret during my long career at The Seattle Times that in spite of all our hard work and the paper’s award-winning investigations and multiple Pulitzer Prizes, the most-clicked stories ever published on our digital pages, by an extremely large margin, told the tale of a man meeting his untimely fate via an act of … uh, carnal knowledge with a horse. 

You could look this up. (Trust me; everyone else already has.)

I get it. We get it. We did it ourselves in the pages of this week’s Cascadia Daily News, with a headline in our Election Extra, “Primary election FAQ: What you need to know.” In this case, it’s what you need to know about voting, which in my book is a Need — one of many we wrestle with every day in debating and ultimately deciding how to deploy ourselves.

That one was warranted, I decided. But it set off this entire flight of mental fancy, which went on for a couple of days. (This, beyond fetching Eggenues for the troops, is one of the primary self-assigned duties of CDN’s increasingly senior editor.)

Pivot to serious here: Staffing enhancements to our operation provide the opportunity to re-evaluate our own balance of Need to Know vs. kinda needtaknow, wink-wink, TweetDeck style. 

In the world of modern journalism, such choices are a true privilege — one I consider daily as an opportunity neither to be missed nor taken lightly. 

So, much like a few of us did during the early, innocent days of CDN’s conception (news flash: two years ago!), I’ve taken some time to mentally sketch a revised starter list of true Needs of local readers, current and potential, through the eyes of a local editor with at least some ability to satisfy them.


I consider this admittedly presumptuous list a conversation starter with readers, who I know will not hesitate to weigh in: 

You need to know how to keep you and yours safe and happy and secure from fear, if not want. 

You need to know who represents you — and how best to choose those folks — in this thing we call a representative democracy. You need to know how well they do it, and how they can do it better. 

You need to know how the less fortunate among us are treated by the rest of us. You need to know how and why and what that says about us as a whole.

You need to know exactly how your hard-earned (in most cases; sorry trust-funders!) money devoted via taxes, fees and other civic obligations contributes to remediation in the above matters, or doesn’t. And why or why not.

You need to know what our modern-human habits have done, are doing, and might do, to the common-good resources we all share, including earth, air and water. 

You need to know how to identify and deal with bad actors who confuse, confound and act to subvert your ability to truly know all of the above. 

You need to know what your friends, relatives, neighbors and community members want to know, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and how you might either merge with those slipstreams of energy, or studiously and politely avoid them, depending on your own proclivities. (Both are OK.)

You need to know that in a trying time riddled with misinformation and intentional deception from the highest levels of society what is real and what is not, and how to tell the difference. 

And you need to know that in spite of all the challenges inherent in the above, there are other people out there just like you who are well-intentioned, compassionate folks who, in spite of what seems increasing evidence to the contrary, still believe humanity can achieve miraculous purposes when properly inspired, engaged and organized. 

And OK, yes, you need to know how to distract yourselves, in a forgivably human way — what’s the best current Scandinavian murder mystery streamer, how that couscous salad might truly bring summer joy, and who the hell in Bellingham steams up the best London Fog. 

Somehow, it all goes together in this happy cosmic occasion we call life in the Upper Lefthand Corner. 

Tell me what you really need to know at the address below. We’ll get after it together. Whether we need to or not.


Ron Judd’s column is published Fridays; ronjudd@cascadiadaily.com; @roncjudd.

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