The Chicago Ideas Week topic was “Journalism + You = Power,” a timely topic in the current media environment where the term “fake news” is used a lot, yet this Chicago Ideas Week presentation went far beyond that trend, to where each individual can make a difference. In attendance were mostly writers and those in marketing and public relations, although this class would have been valuable to anyone who wonders what news they can believe anymore and what, if anything, they can do about it.
Although this Chicago Ideas Week lab was interactive, we soaked up much knowledge, wisdom and inspiration by listening attentively to our class instructor, Public Narrative’s president. I’ll admit when I volunteered for this writing assignment, I didn’t realize how deeply compelling the presentation would be.
Storytelling – News – Journalism
Storytelling: It’s a form of communication; we all do it. We tell stories for a reason; when a story is told, there’s an intent on the part of the storyteller. Journalists are the storytellers who tell the news. Journalists are accountable to very high standards, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and rightly so. Citizens have a right to news that is reported with the purest motives: To inform accurately.
A lot of what we read and hear now, although passed off as news on “news channels” and “news programs” is not really news. It’s often overlaid with the opinions and highly-charged emotions of the reporters. The expression “fake news” has been used a lot lately, yet it was pointed out the term doesn’t make sense and in fact is an oxymoron. In any case, it’s undesirable when the border between news and op-ed are blurred by those who report the news. It’s especially injurious when public alarm is caused — and we seem to be in a continuous state of this lately.
There are several different types of news. Basically, news is meant to tell something that happened, but it can also be informational, announcing something that is happening or is going to happen. How-to news is also informational.
An example of everyday observational was shown: A story of something that had happened, posted to Facebook, backed up by pictures and a video. Someone commented on the post explaining what had specifically happened on the train that caused the delay. The author of the story thanked her commenter and asked who she was and also looked her up on the internet. Turns out she was a spokesperson for the CTA, a trustworthy source. Now everyone who read this post knew what happened and why. That was news.
There are a few different types of news, and there’s non-news: Propaganda, opinion, advertising, entertainment (some of it true) and public relations – trying to pass themselves off as news. This includes infomercials that sometimes even look as if they’re on a legitimate news site, but most people now-a-days can spot marketing ploys that come disguised as news.
So how does one know if something they read or hear is actual news and not one of the above-mentioned foolers? The first thing to ascertain is: What is the intent? Is it to inform, entertain, persuade? Beware of biases. Look at who the sponsors of the program are and who advertises on their show or site.
Also good to note is the news source. “News organizations that are more transparent are generally more credible.” In early times, newspapers were very slanted, depending on who owned them and their beliefs. It used to be that the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times were strictly conservative or liberal as were the dedicated readers of each. Now, not so much anymore. But even newspapers tend to have some native advertising, so stay aware. After all, news is a business; it takes money to produce the news, and in order to stay afloat, ads are part of the business that make that possible.
On social media, countless stories are passed along continuously, often as a knee-jerk reaction. Before you pass something along, consider your own credibility: Make sure what you’re sharing is true. First, do your research. While you read a piece, after perhaps a couple of introductory paragraphs, you should start seeing attribution, which denotes true news. Attribution can be in the form of sources cited (actual names and titles), context (this year’s budget versus last year’s), verifiable quotes and links that lead to respectable internet sites that can back up what is being said.
Don’t simply believe everything you read. Be a fact checker, do a little digging; reading the news isn’t a passive activity but a participatory one. Why is this important? So you get real news, so you share only what is true. By doing so, you are being a good citizen. Everybody needs to be able to rely on the news, which should be comprised solely of legitimate facts.
Good citizenship and the news
As citizens of this country and consumers of the news, we have a right and a responsibility, per the First Amendment to keep news honest. It was put forth that “We are the checks-and-balances of the news. We depend on the media to be our guardian; we in turn need to be guardians of the media. The democracy depends on us. The news organizations uphold democracy.” Does one individual have any power in this regard? Yes! How?
- Know who is reputable, someone without their own agenda whom you can believe. Our class instructor curated her own list of seven to eight people who are in the know and checks them first thing each morning. Some of these are, as she put it, “people on the ground” who sometimes report something before it even breaks in the regular news…Wouldn’t it be great to have your own list like this? Then you would be intelligently informed as to what’s really going on, minus any reporter’s slant or bias, minus fear-mongers. You can do this: Scout around for trust-worthy journalists. Now you know how. You can (and should) be in the know.
- Next, if you are not subscribed to any news source, find a good one and buy a paid subscription. Many seem to be under the impression the news should be free, especially in this information era. When you become a paying subscriber, you are helping uphold the First Amendment. Still, the news service is a business and it needs funds to produce the news. Just as you would expect to pay your bill at the dentist, paying for news is no different. By subscribing, you can reward the hard work countless people in the media are doing for you.
- When is the last time you interacted with a news outlet or journalist? Perhaps you don’t realize: You have more power than you think! News providers are beholden to us to get it right. Communicate with them, be it a strong disagreement with what you’ve read or if you feel they’ve done a particularly good job presenting coverage on a story. Our class instructor assured us that editors and journalists read their mail; they want to get it right; that is their duty. Your communication with them doesn’t have to be lengthy. A simple “Thank you for taking the time to write this” can be compliment enough to keep good news coming. The more you communicate with the media, they will start to recognize your name and the more influential you will become. We live in a democracy; let’s raise our voices…so we can ultimately live in a more ideal world.