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Posts Tagged ‘truth’

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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Quick! What type of world did you imagine when you were a kid? Did you foresee yourself darting about in a hovercraft much like the cartoon family in the Jetsons? Vacationing on the moon? A lean, mean greener world? How is it that we find ourselves these many years, decades even, down the road and we’re still looking at a society that in so many ways is what it once was: the world that petroleum built? Decades after the Carter-era gasoline shortages, now with the prospect of $6 gasoline looming before us, we have little to show for our grand hopes and great visions. We’re still talking about moving off foreign oil even as the buzzword “energy independence” has become firmly entrenched in our lexicon. So little, so late.

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In a move that has sparked controversy nationwide, Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, has successfully promoted a bill that requires state law enforcement, among related jurisdictions, to aid in federal immigration law enforcement. The state senator’s most outspoken critic, Roger Mahony, Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, writes on his blog:

I can’t imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation. Are children supposed to call 911 because one parent does not have proper papers? Are family members and neighbors now supposed to spy on one another, create total distrust across neighborhoods and communities, and report people because of suspicions based upon appearance?

Mahony’s words are provocative — arguably, even, a cheapening comparison to the horrors Communist and Nazi victims experienced. Yet they come on the heels of an audacious personal attack: The Los Angeles Times reports Sen. Pearce told syndicated radio talk show host Michael Smerconish “This guy has a history of protecting and moving predators around in order to avoid detection by the law. He has no room to talk [on the illegal immigration issue].”

Sen. Pearce may be well within the protections of the First Amendment, but he has far overstepped the bounds of responsible speech. Cardinal Mahony, however, has some confession of his own to do: Dredging up a very painful historic reality in contrast to a hypothetical and alarmist outcome.

It’s time for a time-out.

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