This is the last installment of News Bias. Click here if you missed Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3… Thank you for taking the time to read them. And feel free to share with your readers.

What makes a story newsworthy?

Of all the aspects of journalism that the average, non-journalism-initiate[1], doesn’t understand… the most frustrating one for me has been the concept of “what makes a story NEWSworthy?”

That is, what is worth my average-citizen’s time? What information do I NEED to have to make it through the day? Very few people ask themselves these questions when watching or reading the news.

I have suffered through many-a-well-meaning conversation with people asking me if “oh my gosh! did you read this, or hear that?!” My knee-jerk response: “Turn off FoxNews…” But even now, CNN, the last vestige of journalistic integrity is complicit. And I have to talk through it, even though in the back of my mind – I couldn’t really care less… I mean, how does this affect me, other than to simply upset me? What can I do to remedy the situation? And why don’t I trust some judge in some other state to consider and make an informed decision? (Yes, my own state would be different…)

All of the introductory journalism texts don’t help the viewer or reader in this regard, because they use the following example to teach young journalists how to think:

“DOG BITES MAN” = NOT newsworthy

“MAN BITES DOG” = Newsworthy

I personally, have always, disliked this example…

The “MAN BITES DOG” plays on simple novelty in order for journalists to determine what the average citizen NEEDS to know to make it through their daily existence. This basic tenet of journalism is one of the many reasons that the discipline was ripe to become the advertisement-driven, entertainment industry that it has become.

Are all news stories MAN BITES DOG? No, of course not. But, the novel (or upsetting) stories sure do get more ad-clicks and air time, don’t they?

Most people make the seemingly logical assumption that whatever news they see, is important and necessary. In fact, news anchors and editors make it a point of telling the viewer or reader of the story’s importance in the title or opener, by using those preemptive adjectives we discussed in Part 2 and 3. In the case of the face-to-face reports, it can be implied through simple voice inflection and tone.

However, anyone that reads the news regularly, or watches the news channels (all of them) knows that this is far from the truth[2]. Not all news is news-worthy.

Most of it is to take up air-time.

Beyond that, technology has been the cause of the slow, agonizing death of journalism as a serious discipline. Anyone over the age of 30 has watched its’ throes.

Here are the death knells of Journalism, in order:

  1. News Talk and In-depth Report Shows. Okay… these are occasionally entertaining. But, it was a guilty pleasure for me. And we all should do daily penance for giving them air-time. A good way to do penance? DO NOT TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY. They are EDITED[3] and staged. Is reality TV real life? Exactly.
  2. 24 hour news channels. The slow cut that painlessly bled The Press dry… All forms, magazines, newspapers have been suffering ever since.
  3. The internet. It’s a miracle we even have news channels, or newspapers in print at all. Blogs and social media, or the misuse of them, have only been recent additions. And these final events have merely been the social equivalent of ‘dancing on the grave’ of journalism while the discipline is still on its deathbed… Blogs and social media are an aberration, a joke, I refuse to add them to my list yet.

If you think this is a fatalistic view of journalism and The Press, you would be correct.

If you think I have given up on The Press… well, you would be wrong.

The fact that you, the reader, are here, suffering my ramblings and thinking about the problem, gives me hope.

If you disagree, let me know.

If you agree, let me know.

If you have questions, please ask. I will answer them to the best of my knowledge, or at the very least, direct you to a source.

Here’s a good one for those Fake Stories I alluded to in the previous blogs. CNN saw fit to post a how-to article to help kids determine real from fake stories.

For now, ask yourself questions when you see or read a news story. Be curious as to what made the journalist think this or that particular story was worth your time. AND, especially, ask why you are still hearing about the same story 2 weeks later.

My only final note is in regards to Information with a capital ‘I’.

I follow a fellow blogger that defends wiki-leaks to the ends of the earth… and I appreciate them very much for taking up that task. However, wiki-leaks fails in the concept of true journalism. And I do not see them as part of The Press. Though, they could be a valuable tool if properly implemented. The information that they provide is outsourced… they are given and/or purchase the information from third party providers. They are similar to The Press in this regard… since The Press is equally unable to gather information not readily available… but still, they aren’t The Press and I disagree that they are journalists. Journalists have a nose for what they should or shouldn’t be reading… and they understand the implications of sharing that information and how to provide it in the appropriate contexts.

Dumping information out onto the internet is not journalism.

At its very best, it is whistleblowing… At its worst, it is an unethical and questionable practice. The people that are the target of hackers are citizens and, at least in the United States, that comes with certain protections and expectations of privacy in regards to communication. Unfortunately though, reaching in someone’s physical mailbox versus their virtual mailbox has yet to be properly addressed in our active privacy laws… but that is a whole other blog.

Back to the point… Being able to determine what is newsworthy was a solemn task given to The Press. It is up to journalists to go through the data and determine what is worth our time. We need to work on building that trust again.

And when The Press reports something like, “the FBI has determined that, although the practice of maintaining a private email server was a bad choice, there is not enough evidence of intent or pre-meditation, or serious enough breaches of security, to prosecute” the story should stop THERE.

Logged. Filed. End.

Thank you for stopping by!

[1] I was on newspaper staff in middle school, literary magazine staff in high school, and was a journalism minor for a year in college and served as a section editor one semester for the university paper. It was not a good fit for me… (I switched to English) as journalism takes a level of emotional and ideological detachment, and aggressiveness, that I could never master.

[2] I used to watch ALL the news channels, up to and including CSPAN, the Christian Broadcast Network, and, yes, regularly watched The 700 Club. (I was a stay-at-home mom, and not much of a soap opera fan…)

[3] There is a report on Iran out there that was run on one of those In-Depth Report shows. I remember seeing the show when I was a kid and it scared the hell out of me. When I watched it again many years later, when it was re-aired it on cable for a history channel event… the image of the ‘bloody fountain’ was THE SAME FOUNTAIN from different camera angles. Yet, the journalist reported that all fountains in the country had been tainted that way for the ‘blood of the martyr’ or some such nonsense. The different angles were misleading… and in my humble opinion, lacked integrity. How do we know that it wasn’t an isolated, extremist incident and not representative of the country as a whole? The whole show was nothing more than anti-Iran propaganda.