Saturday, October 10, 2009

Manipulating the News

Many, many years ago, when I was in college, I served as chief of the News Bureau. At that time, my school was the only one in NYS that allowed students to be the sole contact with the print media. In those days, I was very idealistic about what was news and how it was handled. Probably you could cross out the "idealistic" part and substitute "naive".

That idealistic naiveness has has eroded over the years, and during the past couple of weeks, has disappeared altogether because of the way our local paper has handled a local news event.

To back up, I read of a similar event which occurred in a neighboring community some time ago. That story had nearly daily accounts in our paper of what was happening. Those accounts were significantly featured on the front page and created a storm of letters to the editor that could be read in the paper.

Now a parallel situation has taken place here, in our town, the same town in which the paper is created, printed, and distributed. So the paper is handling the news in the same manner that the neighboring community's news was handled, right? Wrong!

Maybe this is the time to reveal that one of the significant parties in today's news event worked at the newspaper at one time. Maybe I am reading more in the reporting because of that. Regardless, I can now identify ways of slanting the news without the use of words. Yesterday's paper acts as a blueprint for manipulating news.


1) Change the location of the lead story. Put it in a different spot on the page and maybe the readers will miss it.

2) Change the size of the font in the headline. Give a story about conference bikes a bigger headline than the arrest of a city official.

3) Shorten the length of the story. Give more space to area stories, rather than this local story.

4) Fluff out the length of the report by devoting significant space within the lead article to a related story.

5) Be stingy about how many times you report this story.

6) Filter who will be quoted about the event.

7) Filter what will be quoted about the event.

8) Don't include the story on your website.

9) Remove comments from the website if you don't like them.

I can imagine how the newspaper would react to my list. We never slant the news. We must consider the family. A good guy is accused. The situation warrants careful reporting. You are reading too much into the situation. But wouldn't those same reasons apply to any alleged wrongdoing reported?

See how easy it is to subtly manipulate the news. You don't even need the power of words to do it.

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