by Bob Sparrow
Hey Dad, I know you haven’t been with us for nearly 20 years now, but you must be turning over in your grave, what with all that’s going on in the newspaper business and news media in general today.
Dad, Jack Sparrow, graduated from high school in 1932, into a world that was trying to climb out of the Great Depression. His choices after graduation were to get a job or . . . get a job. So, he got a job at the local newspaper in San Rafael, California, the Independent Journal – which, in those days, was actually INDEPENDENT.
He worked hard at every level of that newspaper from reporting to running the linotype. Then in 1941, at 26 years old, he purchased the Novato Advance and at the time became the youngest newspaper publisher in California. Since television wasn’t a popular media until the mid-50s, newspapers were where everybody got their news. The goal of the newspaper and the news reporter, was to report the events as they happened and let the readers come to their own conclusions. Today’s reporters must have missed that day in their journalism class.
Today the media see themselves as influencers and whoever pays them the most, in whatever form that payment may be, gets the good news. Today, politics plays a huge role in what a media outlet will report and how they report it, or even if they report it.
The basics of a news story in the old days were covered by the “Five ‘W’s”:
If a reporter could get the answers to these questions, he had a good, and complete, story. News stories today have a different standard and are measured very differently:
- Spin it – use bias, vague, dramatic or sensational language, which moves the reported story away from objective, measurable facts
- Make Unsubstantiated Claims – use statements that appear to be facts, but do not include specific evidence.
- Use Subjective statements – don’t forget to use statements based on personal opinion, assumptions, beliefs, tastes, preferences or interpretations
- Look for opportunities to use Sensational language – be dramatic, yet vague, use hyperbole at the expense of accuracy
- Bias by omission – don’t cover stories at all or omit information that would support an alternate view
- Bias by placement – The stories that a media outlet features “above the fold” on the front page or prominently at the start of the broadcast, tells you which stories they really want you to read or hear.
OK, maybe I got a little too deep into the weeds there, I guess I could have summed it up by saying that most media outlets, print or electronic have rolled all the above standards, or sub-standards into one term – Fake New, but that’s nothing you don’t already know.
I know, Dad, we used to be able to say, “Yes, it’s true, I read it in the newspaper.” Yes, really! Sound ludicrous now, but newspapers used to have a noble goal – inform the public and help keep our politicians/government honest – be the people’s watchdog. Now, the ‘fourth estate‘ is the politicians ‘lap dog’. We’re at a point where we cannot trust anyone or anything you hear or read; you must consider the source; no one is watching the watch dog!
So, Dad, we’d sure appreciate it if you could somehow reach down and teach our news “personalities” how to report the facts…just the facts.