I’ve been contemplating for a long time the disconnect between news outlets and their audiences/readers.
You know, this is the whole Fake News thing and mistrust of the media.
I’ve taken a stab at explaining how this paper, particularly, approaches news reporting versus the public’s understanding – usually misunderstanding – of the purpose and meaning of what they read.
It’s not been easy to write about this topic, despite my deep concern about it. People are reading things and it is eliciting a reaction different from what was intended. People are reading a news report and getting riled up because they think the news outlet is trying to tell them something they don’t think is true.
The “media” reports that the provincial government wants everyone to have a card proving they have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Some – many? most? – members of the public perceive that as the media outlet says you should have a card proving you’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. But it’s not the media telling you that, they’re telling you what the province has mandated. But everyone perceives it as the media outlet and the reporter telling you what they want to happen. It’s the old shoot the messenger syndrome.
I think the essence of the problem is that people expect and/or believe that news reporting is advocating something. Or should be. But that’s not the case. In its purest form, news is just news – reporting something that happened or is happening.
But people expect a story to be ‘doing something’ and, consequently, they think that every story is actively pushing for a certain outcome or point of view. As opposed to just telling you that someone is saying something, doing something or advocating something.
That’s the nub of the problem. When you read a news story it will say Premier John Horgan says, “Blah, blah, blah.” (not an actual quote). What we’re telling you is what John Horgan (or anybody else) said.
But people perceive it as reporter Alistair Taylor says, “Blah, blah blah.” You need to read it more closely. Again, it’s not Reporter X saying something, she’s just quoting the subject who made that statement.
There is such a thing as advocacy journalism but that’s not what most reporters are producing plus advocacy journalism is biased, it’s advocating for a certain outcome or belief. In mainstream media, advocacy journalism falls under the umbrella of opinion and is usually dressed up as a column, an opinion piece that is the view of the writer. What you’re reading here is a column, an opinion piece and it’s labelled as such.
Now – and this is the exception that many people believe proves the rule – there are instances of journalists deliberately pushing an agenda or deliberately or mistakenly but those are clawed back as soon as it’s pointed out.
So, when a reporter writes that the Living Oceans Society wants fish farms out of the Broughton Archipelago, many people read that as the Campbell River Mirror wants fish farms out of the Broughton Archipelago. This is a crucial misunderstanding of journalistic process and the source of a lot of misunderstanding and strife.
We are the medium (get it, media?) through which the news reaches you. We didn’t say a northbound pick up truck swerved out of its lane, crossed the median and collided with a southbound semi truck. The police did. We tell you what the police tell us.
It’s hard for this to not sound patronizing but the level of misunderstanding is alarming and, sadly to us in the media, baffling. I heard the phrase many years ago “People read what they want to read” and I’m sad to say it’s often true.
Another aspect of this is that if what we write doesn’t say what you want it to say, then it’s biased, incorrect and, God forbid, fake. Sorry people, but you’re going to read things that you don’t agree with. That doesn’t make them wrong.
In the end, we’re just presenting to you information – whether it be a quote or from some other source (document, file, eyewitnesses) – that we’ve collected to support the point of the story you’re reading.
If it’s the writer’s opinion, we’ll tell you. Otherwise, look at the source and understand that it’s the source’s actions, opinions or wishes that are being presented to you. In the best case, scenario, we’ll present the other side of the argument but that’s not always possible in the same piece (but it often is) but at some point, the other side or sides of the argument will get put on the public agenda. And we’ll report that.
I’m such a cynic, of course, that even having explained this now, I don’t believe it will change anybody’s mind or lead anybody to any greater understanding of the mechanics of news reporting but I feel I have to try.