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Posts Tagged ‘news’

If you get the impression that Americans’ grasp of the news scarcely overlaps, you are not imagining things. Americans have been bemoaning “media bias” for years. Still, it is hard to chalk up today’s level of public polarization to garden variety media bias.

There is so much effort to maintain an overt “narrative” on the part of leading cable, digital and print news sources that some public figures are scrambling to account for the shift. FOX News’ Tucker Carlson suggests that the actions of American intelligence agencies — the so-called Deep State — helps to explain the American divide. Indeed, the frequency with which cable news outlets recruit former FBI officials and intelligence heads, such as former CIA Director John Brennan and former NSA head James Clapper, as paid contributors is unprecedented. Given that a majority of former Obama administration bureaucrats under contract to cable news providers are antagonistic to the current president — shamelessly proclaiming America’s dirty laundry to an Internet-connected world — the impression that a Deep State is at war with the Trump administration is not wholly unjustified. What this theory fails to acknowledge, however, is that Americans in all walks of life, at every level on the income and education spectrum, are under the influence of a national media that is arguably doing as much to divide as to inform.

For cable news anchors and journalists at the national level, contending with the partisan whims of career politicians and DC bureaucrats is nothing new. What is a relative newcomer on the journalism scene, however, is the rising influence of “stakeholder-driven journalism“. That’s journalistic jargon to describe the formation of strategic alliances between journalists, advocacy organizations and nonprofits. And therein, arguably, lies the least appreciated aspect of our highly divisive national climate.
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Journalism is in the midst of a slow-motion crisis.

When I was in journalism school, students learned how to write using the “inverted pyramid” approach. The inverted pyramid is a style of writing that dates back to the days when paper real estate — in a print newspaper — was limited. Editors who wished to make room for breaking stories needed the option to lop the bottom of the story off with minimal risk of omitting critical details. The inverted pyramid calls for the most vital aspects of a story to appear at the top. This allows editors more flexibility while recognizing the fact that not all readers make the page jump to continue reading an article that concludes elsewhere. As a result, it was important then — as it is now — to lead with the most relevant details. A properly crafted story lede (introduction) encapsulates the basics: Who?, What?, When?, Where? and Why?.

In the Digital Era print real estate isn’t the limiting factor it once was. But there are indications the digital medium has shortened readers’ attention spans. It is of vital importance, as a result, to impart key facts “up top” — if only because web viewers are likely to skim content and move on.

Something, however, has changed in the way a lot of news organizations craft and promote stories. Call it sloppiness — lax editing — or journalistic “spin”. Some of the most controversial stories to appear in mainstream media are prefaced by misleading headlines on social media — titles that don’t square with a complete read of the content. Misleading headlines on social media posts are far from the only problem, however. Take, as an example, two contradictory narratives: Person/institution “X” and person/institution “Y” disagree over who did what or why. What should a responsible journalist do with this unwieldy story line? The answer is to disclose the ambiguity very early on  — to make clear to readers that a situation is in flux and/or that key aspects of the story are in dispute.

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