Remember When JournalistsTried To Inform Us? (If You do, You’re Old!)

NewsResearchers have recently reported that some of us store memories in rich detail,while others file what amounts to the equivalent of outline notes. And the two styles use different brain regions. Perhaps  that contributes to the differences between various observers’ recollections of the same event? We don’t know.

Nevertheless, we do note differences in what we recall of our our high school introductory journalism class and today’s version of that subject illustrated in current publications, both print and digital.Those are no small differences.

Early in our introductory high school journalism class, we were introduced to the structure of a news story, a structure that differentiated it from other forms of writing. There was a cardinal rule: The “Who, What, When, Where and How” of the story had to be included in the first paragraph. No exceptions, no excuses.

There was a very practical rationale: People read newspapers for information. It then behooved such journals to provide the basics as efficiently and completely as possible, so that the reader learned what was wanted as quickly as possible. Those who wanted more detail could read on into the story but the gist was obtained in that introductory paragraph. That was an obligation of a professional reporter.

No more. Today, stories are too long,often present only a come-on at the outset and force the reader into extensive reading to acquire the key details.Often as not, even the headlines are more titillating than informative.

We note too that there seem fewer stories, mostly of greater length, than of yore.And at least in our local journal, the once sacrosanct front page presents prominent stories seemingly aimed at evoking emotion rather than informing readers.  Quite an evolution, especially for one largely unremarked.

We suppose that this illustrates a shift in the purpose of what we once called” “Journalism.” It seems now to be produced, no t to inform, but to engage the maximum numbers of readers/listeners/viewers. This it does using emotional appeals interspersed with selected feel-good or bad stuff. And it forces the reader to pursue lengthy reading if he wishes to learn very much.

The goal has reversed from providing the most possible information ASAP to engaging the sucker – excuse us, the reader – so long as possible. For the benefit, we presume, of advertisers. And of politicians as well, we guess with our tinfoil hat firmly seated on our noggin.  Which is to say, those with money and power.

That, we note, is what is left when one disposes of objective morality by jettisoning for example, Christian values. Journalists we recall, flattered themselves to be the “fifth estate,”  meaning that they were independent watchdogs observing and reporting to the people upon government. You are free top disagree, but to us, they today seem rather to report for government and economic power.

We note recently the reaction to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s remark that forcing weakly qualified minority students into elite, high-pressure universities where they too often fail, is not productive. The media has generally reacted with acquisitions of racism by Justice Scalia; ignoring what he actually said.

What was once  reported, now too often seems to be politicized. Or on occasion, unreported. It is only the internet’s low-cost information that provides an ability to understand today’s reality. And the federal government is now asserting control of that, via FTC, FEC and FCC proposals.

It seems that the more we hear these days, the less we actually know …



About Jack Curtis

Suspicious of government, doubtful of economics, fond of figure skating (but the off-ice part, not so much) Couple of degrees in government, a few medals in figure skating; just reading and suspicion for economics ...
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