Every year about this time the Associated Press - of which we are a member - sends out a listing of the top news stories of the year. Editors and publishers are asked to rank those news stories on their importance during the past year and, shortly before year's end, AP will announce their top news story of the year.
We participate in this annual survey and only rarely do I agree with my fellow colleagues across the country on which story was the most important of the year. Now there are certainly some exceptions. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for example, clearly was the most important story in 2001. And if you go back even further, Watergate - another example - was a runaway selection back in the '70s. But more often than not, there are two or three or more stories that could easily be picked as the most important for that year.
What strikes me about the list this year is that I find not one single story selection that is positive or uplifting in nature. Granted, the news business is clearly dominated by the dark side of human nature. But even in a bad year there is usually one item - a rescue in a coal mine, a new medical breakthrough - that brings a positive note to the annual listing. Not this year.
When I first scanned the list I saw the story about Barry Bonds breaking the all-time home run record in major league baseball. But that news was followed by the indictment of Bonds for steroid use, so it still ranks in the negative column.
Anna Nicole Smith died, Don Imus was fired, Michael Vick went to the dogs, Sen. Larry Craig got caught with his pants down, etc. Not a whole lot of positive news in any of those stories.
And you can tell when it's been a fairly slow news year when the election of a new president in France is among the top-ranked stories of the year. Or here's one worth mentioning. The Palestinians and Israelis are still fighting. I at first thought that was a mistake since this item has been on the top news cycle since I first started in this business a century or so ago.
As additional illustration of just how slow this past year has been in the news business, wildfires in southern Greece were nominated as one of the top news items of the past year. I'd vote for Sen. Craig and his bathroom shenanigans before I would select a Grecian wildfire as my top story.
I've narrowed my choices down to two. I'll either choose the fact that Congress failed in their attempt to forge a compromise on the sticky question of illegal immigration or the beginning of intense campaigning for the 2008 presidential nominations. Either of these stories - to me at least - dominated the news headlines this past year more than any others. And both, you'll notice, are still unresolved which means they will likely remain on the list next year.
Come to think of it, I can already predict the top story of next year. You can too. We'll have ourselves a presidential election come next November and regardless of the outcome, you can bet right now that story will be judged the top story of 2008. That's fairly easy to predict. Picking the top story of 2007 however is a tad bit more difficult.
But on reflection, any year that does not include Michael Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton or the Rev. Jesse Jackson as a top newsmaker is a pretty good year to me.