A news bestiary

fake_news_laptopFake News: No term has risen into common parlance and then been demoted to total nonsense as quickly as this one. I first heard it used in a self-deprecating way by news satire host Jon Stewart to describe his own work when told that his program was the primary way many people were actually getting their daily news. Stewart recommended following real journalists to fill that role.

The term morphed over the course of the recent presidential campaign to mean deliberately false stories published with the intent to inflame partisan feeling and undermine opponents, or, in the case of many fake news purveyors, just to turn click-bait headlines into Google ad revenue. In its most recent incarnation, a concerted effort is being made to apply it as a label to any reporting one disputes or just doesn’t like.

Propaganda: This term has strong negative connotations from the history of WW II and the Cold War, but it can be described in neutral terms as stories originating from official sources designed to advance a state agenda. Whether factual or false, its intent is to persuade the public to support an official position or action, to propagate an official point of view. It is now also used more broadly as an epithet to describe any reporting one disputes or just doesn’t like.

Advocacy Journalism: This kind of reporting is also designed to advance an agenda, usually support for a cause or causes an organization or media outlet considers to be of paramount importance, either to the public’s interest, its own policy goals, or its own self-interest. It mixes factual reporting with editorial content in an effort to persuade the public to take specific action related to those causes.

Public Interest Journalism: This is what public media outlets like NCPR are tasked to do. This reporting is intended to inform the public about facts, events and issues that have an impact on their communities and are relevant to their public concerns as citizens. Rather than deploying information in a way to persuade its audience toward a particular end, public interest journalists let facts speak for themselves, without bending them toward any particular public or personal agenda.

To a public interest journalist, anything else can be considered a variety of advertising.


7 Comments on “A news bestiary”

  1. Peter John & Rosalind Robertson says:

    Important, timely, and very well put. Thank you, Dale.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    All well and good definitions with one qualification to public interest journalism.
    The problem with it is deciding what to report. This is where opinion comes in. It is unavoidable. Some things are reported while other things are not. What parts of what is and isn’t reported can change the point and the tone.

  3. Ethel Larrabee says:

    Yes, advertising. Right on. Thank you for your good work.

  4. Terry Barber says:

    Thanks for the good explanation and reminder of types of news presentation. I’m ‘sticking’ with Public Interest Journalism!!’

  5. Anne Burnham says:

    I looked at several of the articles following your blog.

    I found it particularly interesting that in the pictures of the pro-life and -choice pictures accompanying the article on the rallies in Plattsburg. The pro-lifers were older white men and the Choicers were younger men and women. Who does the legislation effect? It seems obvious.

    Anne B

  6. Jack says:

    Almost all news or discussions on NPR is advocacy journalism.

  7. Ken Hall says:

    Prior to the NPR/NCPR decision to eliminate the regular forth and back betwixt disparate folks via the NCPR web pages, I found it rather fascinating to observe and participate in what I would describe as a large and open “town hall” meeting wherein all forms of discussion, concerning both local and distant content, ensued. Throughout those participatory conversation years it was patently obvious that “FACTS” had divergent meanings to opposing conversants. As does our current POTUS many folks un/under educated in the sciences salivate over the technological fruits of science which they find appealing yet hold in disdain scientific findings (truths) which they are either incapable of comprehending or which oppose their cultural “beliefs”. “Truth by consensus” has been practiced by humans likely since we became humans 50-200 thousand years ago; however, never in my nearly 75 years has it been brought to the forefront of our culture as blatantly as by the current POTUS who regularly/consistently proclaims “people say”, “I’ve been told”, “I saw it on TV”, …… to justify his “beliefs” as “truths”; or in the words of the mysteriously missing, for the past week, Kellyanne Conway “alternative facts”.

    Although NPR/NCPR purport the desire to report “the facts” to the public and allow the public to analyze these facts and arrive at informed logical conclusions a number of factors render such to be a highly unlikely result. A major impediment is the inability of most folks to analyze “data” and come to rational conclusions, because of the predominant lack of interest in studying the core subjects required for STEM. A more insidious and corrosive element is the result of the inclusion of technical statements of contradiction by folks with outlier contentions within a given article as equivalent to the majority consensus of technical experts under the ruse of providing “all” equivalent facts. Two obvious examples are the 50+ year battle between medical researchers and the tobacco industries, which ultimately discredited tobacco, and the current and even more pressing battle between the climate scientists and the hydrocarbon fuels industries. My suggestion is for NPR/NCPR to include the statistical “facts” within each and every article wherein one party is played against the other such as the numbers of folks representing each group and their particular expertise, i.e., one or a dozen scientist’s dissension about the causes of global warming are NOT equivalent to 10,000 climate physicist’s corroborative conclusions about same; nor are 100-10,000,000 non STEM educated folks meandering about in cyberspace.

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