We are bombarded on social media and the Internet with links to articles about current events. Most prevalent are political articles and issues that trigger emotional responses, such as abortion. This article is not about how to discern “fake news” but instead, how to determine whether you are reading a news article, an editorial, an opinion piece, or a blog. You may think the answer is easy, but in fact, the line is very often blurred.
First and foremost, do NOT let the headline fool you. Many “readers” do not look past the headline. If you are among them, please don’t pat yourself on the back. It does no good to scan a headline and assume you agree or disagree with the content of the article.
For example, yesterday, Redstate, a fairly well known right wing biased media, published an article entitled, “POLL SHOCK: If the 2016 Election Were Held Today, Donald Trump Would Win Again”. The title of this article would cause anger among voters who don’t like Trump and would NOT vote for him. Those against Trump who would not actually read the article might call it “fake news” “wrong” and maybe even cuss at it. But if a patient and wise person were to click on the article and read it, he would note that the writer lays out a case for why he believes Trump would win again – apathetic voters staying home. Whether or not he is right, we don’t know, but clearly, the article does not favor Donald Trump.
Since the article uses charts and facts, it is more of an editorial than an opinion piece, although it does demonstrate that a gray area exists. Let’s take the media categories one by one and see what defines them and what has gone haywire. I will use the male gender for simplicity’s sake and to save words.
News includes Breaking News, and encompasses anything of interest or importance happening. It can be local, statewide, national, or global. It can even be in Outer Space. But the primary consideration is that the journalist who authors a news article must remove himself entirely from the scope of the article. He merely reports data and describes the incident or event in such a way to make it clear, factual and interesting without any personal OR media bias. What I mean by media bias, is that he should not incorporate the leanings of the place he writes for into his article (or video, podcast or radio broadcast, – live or recorded).
Breaking News can be an issue when it comes to accuracy, because it’s being reported as events unfold. If a journalist picks up data off of a feed that says, “9 dead and 15 or more injured in mass shooting” and reports that, it may change dramatically later. The report may confirm later to be, “5 dead, 3 missing, 6 critically injured, and 20 others sent home from the hospital with minor injuries”. A good journalist will hedge initial reports by stating that, “the initial report is telling us that 9 are dead…but we will continue to bring you updates and verify the accuracy of the report.” A good reader who is interested in the news will always verify other sources before sharing the information.
Editorials are commentaries about topics which have been researched by the journalist. He has done extensive reading and studying on a topic so he should have more knowledge about it than the public at large. He has more than just an opinion about it, and he wants the public to know that there is more behind the general news than what they are reading. He will post facts to back up his statements which are embedded in his editorial. These can be links to articles from credible sources* and/or videos, audio clips, charts and graphs, tweets or other data that is easily verified by an astute reader. The journalist has taken a side in his editorial and he wants people to understand why his view is a valid one.
People don’t have to agree with editorials; in fact they often disagree. But the onus is on the reader to debate the topic in the editorial intelligently with facts that refute the information contained therein. One hot topic that I am considering writing an editorial on is vaccines. There is a ton of information on why the benefits of vaccinating children outweigh potential harms. Again, it’s a gray area, not a solid line, but the purpose of an editorial is to persuade people to cross over the line, since it’s not solid.
Opinions are like noses. Everybody has one. Most opinion pieces are written from a strong point of view from start to finish. The writer wants to let the readers know how he feels about something. The articles are emotion driven more than factual, although the writer can use facts. Opinion pieces often draw on a lot of past events to build cases, rather than use more than a couple links to current articles and data. Most people already know how a writer feels about a topic, so they already agree with him in advance and he is writing to the choir, or they disagree strongly and they won’t read the article. Or if they do, they will attack it in the comments. Opinions pieces should be avoided by journalists who are trying to build a good reputation and they should only be read for entertainment value. It doesn’t hurt to write or read an occasional opinion piece, but like satire, too much of it makes a person just click on by.
Blogs are logs with a B. When some people travel, they write a log about their journeys. It’s so they can remember more about their experiences, and pass them along to others. There are some excellent travel logs and books available for those who enjoy reading about places they may never get to go. I wrote a travel log on a trip I took to Antarctica in 2012 with National Geographic. But I don’t feel it has the quality of publishable material. I appreciate the writings of Barry Lopez ,who has such a remarkable way of describing the wilderness that a person can lose himself in the words and virtually be confronting a wolf or a group of Eskimos. But most travel logs have now become run-of-the-mill blogs which are all inclusive. Anyone and everyone can open a WordPress account and blog away about their journeys with a medical condition, pregnancy, new meal plans, diet and exercise, or you name it.
People who are interested in blogs are usually the friends and relatives of the blogger. They rarely build a big audience. With proper promotional activity and excellent writing skills however, a good blogger can become successful. This happens about as often as a high school ball player makes it to the major leagues.
Keep in mind that when you are looking at articles online, the title is not necessarily the content, that the article is not always going to be accurate, and that an editorial is far superior to an opinion. Learn to recognize the difference. We, here at National Compass, seek to bring you accurate news reporting and editorials. We will leave the opinions and blogs to others. That’s not the direction we are seeking.
*Credible news sources are not always recognizable ones. And some sources may have been tainted in people’s minds by the opinions of others. But there have been tests performed on media to determine how accurate the reporting is, as well as how biased. Here is a chart showing where media fall in terms of accuracy. It may surprise you.
Janice Barlow is a True Crime author. Her latest book was published in February and is on Amazon in soft cover and Kindle: “He Should Be Dead“