THERE WASN'T A NEWSROOM ANYWHERE in the world that didn't talk - or argue - this past week about its year-end edition and whether to include some kind of summary of the news of 2011.
Critics of this journalistic crutch raise some important objections:
1. By definition, mass media is a reflection of the present, not necessarily the past.
2. Other than the documentation, a summary requires a minimal journalistic effort.
3. The lists and reviews limit space available for things happening now.
4. It's hard to be certain that such summaries really add any value to the publication.
But there are also factors in favor of the news summary:
1. They remind us of events that sometimes have ongoing consequences in the places they occurred.
2. They can provide context for the newsworthy present.
3. And the most pragmatic of all: they help to fill a paper's pages or a broadcast's minutes during a period when there is an absolute lack of news.
Throughout my 24 years in professional journalism, the question has been the same each year, whether I was working in television or in my various stints at daily papers: Are we going to do a summary this year? The arguments in favor and against also never seemed to change: "People love them!" "People hate them!" "They're entertaining." "They're boring." "They're predictable." "Readers expect them."
There is no consensus. But inevitably, summaries still show up.
These summaries are usually accompanied by predictions, and it seems impossible for journalists to resist the temptation to toss in a Tarot-card reader or numerologist along with the experts talking about what could occur in the economy, international politics, or sports in the coming year.
And invariably, the following year we only recall the very few predictions that came close to getting it right, while ignoring the vast majority that were ridiculously off base.
Mass media have a great responsibility, above all in times such as those we are living now in 2012, the year that some among us believe our world will end. Here in Chile, a recent study on this question of the impending apocalypse found that 18% of adults believe that the world will end on December 21, 2012, as the Mayan calendar predicts.
If it turns out the Mayans are right, I can make at least one guaranteed prediction: We won't have to endure any more year-end summaries.