I never aspired to work in the media, at least not as a writer. I fell into the position, quite by accident, some eight years ago when I began working for the MLN as an ad sales person at the time they tried to launch the Arizona Rattler. The writer who normally covered the school board meetings was unable to cover a meeting late in the year 2009 and I was given the opportunity to “fill in;” I took it and I liked it.
I’ve learned a lot of things about the media since that day and three important rules that I always apply to information I read are:
- Every story has an angle and the same event covered by two different people will have completely different information, be entirely different stories and both will be true. Individual’s perspectives are like gems; multi-faceted with a brilliance that shines more one way than it does another. All are created under a certain amount of pressure and circumstances resulting in some ‘precious’ and ‘semi-precious’ versions of the very same event.
- My mother was right! Don’t take everything so seriously, take it all with a grain of salt. There are multiple sides to every story so believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see. Mom wasn’t saying, “Everybody’s a liar.” She was just saying, check all the angles, read or listen to all versions of the story, add your own observations, then make up your own mind.
- Barb Ellestad was also right when she said, “Love, peace and harmony are wonderful but they don’t sell news, tragedy and mayhem does. In checking all the stories online and on Facebook, the stats don’t lie. Most often talked about, looked at and commented on are the stories that relay the “most desirable” news; The police blotter, arrest report, politics and the articles that talk about crime, death or drugs.
Life, individual or group events, breaking news or just about anything imaginable is viewed by an individual in a way that no other individual can truly comprehend but by communicating thoughts and ideas “stories” are told and thus begins the adult game of “Telephone.”
Everybody remembers that game from grade school, a very simple subject is told to one person in secret and the subject is passed, secretly, down the line until it gets to the very last person. The person at the end says the subject out loud. Most often the subject is drastically changed, sometimes to the point of being completely “off subject” by the time it reaches the end. Some parts are embellished while others are left out for lack of interest. It was a fun and silly game when we were kids but life, as adults, works much the same way only now we take it much more seriously.
Taking it seriously is not a bad thing if you remember the rules of the game.
Of course, as adults, we should take news and opinions seriously, it’s how we become informed, but remember that journalists can only give the information they get and how they relay that information is entirely up to the individual telling the story; especially on the “opinion” page.
When stories/articles intended to inform the public of what is happening are written, they are written by an individual using an “angle.” That angle is at the discretion of the writer and in cases of community newspapers like the MLN we cover the same annual events over a period of many years. We don’t want to write the same article each year but some of the information just doesn’t change much. We then try to write the article from a different angle or perspective than we did in years prior focusing on different aspects of the event each year.
When you have more than one reporter covering the event, the articles will also differ greatly depending on the source reporter used, the information they received from that source, what they witnessed, which can be entirely different depending on where two different people were standing and other circumstances that are just too long to list. In each case, the reporter tries to convey the truth to the best of their ability and knowledge at the time. Sometimes circumstances change or more information becomes available at later dates so we try to keep up and keep the public informed as well but ultimately the facts are what we’re looking to convey so the who’s, what’s, where’s and when’s will be consistent while the, how’s and why’s may sometimes vary depending on the source.
These are the articles you should take more seriously and I believe we, as reporters, should be held accountable for every bit of information we publicize. Sometimes we are misinformed and we print retractions, sometimes we relay information from an angle that differs from those of other journalists but we all do our best to bring the truth to the public.
The opinion page is something entirely different. That’s the page where we, as writers, can convey our own personal thoughts and ideas on subjects or current events. These thoughts and ideas are shaped by our individual lives and an immeasurable difference in experiences.
I am fortunate to be in the position that allows for the publication of my opinions and to live in a country that defends my freedom to express them but mine is not the only opinion capable of being heard.
The purpose of publishing columns, after all, is to promote public debate and discourse.
Given that the MLN wants to provide diversity of opinion, the bosses strive to give room to several columnists who address many issues from a variety of different angles. To keep things fair and balanced, they, the writers, also invite the public to respond with their own opinions through comments on the web site, social media and Letters to the Editor.
Keeping rule number three in mind, we’re going to write our opinions on subjects that matter because we want people to read our opinions and respond. What we do invite is open dialogue on subject matters and differences in opinions that vary from our own.
Hot topics, the ones the public cry support or outrage over, those are what the opinion pages are about. They give everyone the opportunity to write their views and opinions on controversial subjects. They are intended to invite discourse not absolute recourse, our words are not definite solutions to issues and we are not experts on the subjects, we are only giving one person’s opinion, from one person’s angle; why take it so seriously?