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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MEDIA WATCH: Four Key Parts of Big Stories




We don't yet know the name of the next big story, but this is sure: It's stewing out there, and it will be huge.


O.J. and Diana, Monica and John-John long ago went cold. Elian is already losing heat. But there's another coming. Got to have it. For here's a core chore of the news business: You have to feed the goat.


The next one, like the others, will be served in many courses.Talky talkers on the radio will present little else. The delicious details will be in all the papers. At dinner time, the family will chew them over at the table. The images - and nowadays the biggest stories ride on pictures - will clog the TV.


For the next big story, the recipe is time-tested. Just combine these four ingredients in varying proportions.


Beauty. Can't do without it. Elian is beautiful. Those eyelashes, those eyes, those smooth and slender limbs. Beauty is elusive. Residing as it does in the eye of the beholder, it is difficult to measure. Still, we know it when we see it. O.J. was beautiful. His ex-wife was beautiful. John F. Kennedy Jr. was beautiful. I saw Diana once, up close. Lasering the room, batting her big eyes, she went off the scale. Measured in millihelens (Helen of Troy's beauty launched a thousand ships; a millihelen is enough to launch only one), Diana's was much greater than Monica's. But the president made up for it. Tall and light and handsome, he commands any room.


Familiarity. The next big story won't be told about people we don't know. It needs the sharp spice that attaches to reports of the behavior of our schoolmates, our bosses, our neighbors. True, we first encountered Elian when he appeared upon the sea, but bearded Fidel Castro has been wearing his fatigues and smoking his cigar in the hallways of our consciousness since 1959. O.J. had been leaping through our living rooms, soaring over linebackers since his days at USC. Diana we had met before she was a princess: Diana in the golden coach, at the altar at St. Paul's, bending to receive a cellophaned bouquet. We saw John-John in his little buttoned coat saluting his dead father in 1963. Bill Clinton we observed before, during and after the days of thongs and pizza.


Irrelevance. The next big story won't matter. Not in any real way. Deaths, of course, are sad, early deaths especially, and murders are distressing, but they're not rare. And unless we know the youthful dead, or the malignant doer, we scarcely pause to notice. Big stories don't mean diddly. They don't really change our lives.


The Monomyth. The most intriguing stories are those most deeply rooted. The oldest, surest plots - boy gets girl, boy loses girl, or good guy battles bad guy, or there's a monster in the forest - were already ancient when Ice Age hunters employed them around the fire. The tales that most resonate are fragments of a narrative everybody knows. O.J.'s retells Othello - the honored champion, the marriage across racial lines, the all-devouring jealousy, the violent death. When JFK Jr.'s plane went down, his inexperienced piloting seemed somehow less compelling than the curse upon his family and the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons.


Diana's death was different. It was one of those odd switches,those man-bites-dog reversals, on which the news business relies. Fairy-tale princesses are frequently in peril. Dragons tend to plague them. But the knight in shining armor, or Hercules, or Perseus, always gets there just in time. The dragon is not supposed to eat the princess.


Hanky-panky in the palace is another monomyth staple. King David notes Bathsheba. Sir Lancelot sees Guinevere. The president eyes Monica. Heavy breathing follows.


Moses in the bulrushes and Elian on his inner tube are to some degree related. We expected them to drown. Suchsea births seem a blessing, such deliverances miraculous. The child will become a man. Which side will he end up on? With Elian, we're still waiting for the ending. Moses spent years in Egypt before heading to the Promised Land. He never reached it, though he glimpsed it from afar.


When the next big story breaks, we'll be caught again. The players will be beautiful, the tragedy unsettling. The story will enthrall us for a while. Its ending, when we reach it, will be as crisp as its start. Once upon a time ...


Paul Richard writes for The Washington Post, where this comment originally appeared.