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Article Specs

VxAcct: 1

Article ID: 5485

Section: wrenwalker

Age Group: Adult

Posted: February 10th. 2003

Views: 10945

Minding Your News P's and Q's

by Wren

Some days, I just want to turn off the television, shut down the computer, crumple up the newspaper and go for a nice long walk in the woods. Two things usually prevent that from happening. One, the 'woods" in this part of Florida are dense jungles of flesh-ripping palmetto plants and poison everything vines. There are also a few other minor deterrents such as scorpions, coral snakes and wild boars. And since "if there is water, there are probably alligators living in it" is one of the first rules that I memorized when I moved to the Sunshine State, the large roving mobs of blood-thirsty mosquitoes tend to be amongst the least of my concerns when I am out in the wild. Oddly, mall walking is pretty popular around here though...

I hate malls. But I do love the news. And that is the other reason why I am not out taking a walk right now. Ten minutes after I have turned off, shut down and crumpled, I start getting a little twitchy. At fifteen minutes, my eyeballs are scanning the "Do Not Remove' tag on the chair cushion. At twenty minutes, my fingers are typing out invisible words on the cat (who likes this very much, by the way). I have never made it past the twenty-minute mark. It's probably just as well. My neighbors already avoid me. Maybe it's the bunny slippers.

News is a big deal around here. Sort of like breathing air and changing the litter box, it's a part of our lives. Given the popularity of the Wren's Nest news section, I'd say that the news is important to a lot of people. But how do we know just what it is that we are reading? How do we interpret the news? What is news?

According to Webster's, news is: "recent events and happenings, especially those that are notable or unusual" and/or "information about recent events of general interest, especially as reported by the print and broadcast media."

So, that's what we'll go with here. My introductory segment, while it contains some facts about the various wild and icky things that inhabit the 'woods' of Florida, is not really news. It might be considered a 'humor' piece (by my daughter who shares my vision of the absurd) or something of general interest (especially to my future therapist); but 'news' (as defined above), it is not.

Well, that one was a pretty obvious example. But sometimes, it is hard to tell if what you are reading is news, an opinion piece or just some guy or gal spouting off about something. Here is a mini-tutorial of news terminology to possibly help guide you on your way into the wild -- and sometimes treacherous -- world of the print media.

The News: A hard news story is concerned with events and issues. It will be factual, usually unemotional or neutral in tone and may include the testimony of experts, research or statistical data and descriptions of the locale, environment or circumstances surrounding the event or issue. The reporter will not offer a personal interpretation of what may have happened or of the issue, but will interview credible sources to obtain that information. The article itself will report on all of the sides and/or details equally and without personal bias.

A soft news article may include most of the above information, but will also interplay these with man/woman-on-the-street opinions as well. The reporter will remain neutral and let the people interviewed speak for themselves and let the reader interpret these remarks, as he/she will. Many follow-up articles to a hard news story fall into the category of 'soft news'. As with toilet tissue, there are varying degrees of softness.

Checkpoints: All 'facts' should have source citation. You can then go to this source to verify or attain more information. If the source of these 'facts' is not in the news report, contact the reporter, journalist or editor and request the source information. The editor should have caught any incorrect facts, but in a world of 'fast-breaking news stories' and 'terror alerts', this is not always done -- or done well. If you can verify that some 'facts' reported are indeed incorrect, contact the editor in charge and present your research. Ask for a clarification or retraction.

A Word About 'Unidentified' Sources: More and more, reporters seem to be relying on secret or undisclosed sources 'close to whatever department or agency' for information. We can hope that the editor has verified these sources as legitimate, but we have no way of telling if the source was a general or a janitor. Always take these with a grain salt and/or a stiff shot of tequila (worm optional).

The Editorial: This is an important statement of position piece. More than an opinion, an editorial declares the newspaper or magazine's official stance on a matter of interest. These are usually unsigned and may have been written by the head editor, several editors or an editorial board or staff. Editorial pieces always carry extra weight. Over the past few years, some newspapers have published editorials in favor of Pagans and/or Pagan issues. This is a big deal. If the editors of The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune or any other major publication write such an editorial, then it is a VERY big deal. We want these. Oh yes, we do! And we should be very pleased and proud indeed when we get them.

Checkpoints: Some papers allow for 'guest editorials'. These will be signed and may or may not reflect the official views of the paper or magazine. You should always check the credentials of any 'guest' writer for affiliations, credentials and/or biases.

The Opinion Piece: This is just what it says that it is: someone's opinion. Depending on who that someone is, it may carry some considerable weight or not. Public officials, elected representatives, corporate heads, scientific experts or key religious figures all may have something important to say on an issue or event. Some papers -- and most large ones -- have regular opinion columns on a variety of issues. The authors are generally quite knowledgeable in their field of interest. They may also be biased or have a particular platform from which they write.

Checkpoints: The opinion writer has a definitive point of view that he/she is espousing. The 'facts' may be -- how can I put this kindly -- up for debate and review. They often appeal to the emotions. The descriptive terms used to point out the fallacies of 'the other side' may be less than flattering while those who agree in kind can do little or no wrong. They expect to get a lot of hate mail or cyber-hugs. Some -- the good ones -- will respond to corrections based upon facts or more information. Some will not. It's always worth a try if you think that the writer has slanted a piece too far. But again, these are opinions and should not be confused with hard news items based upon verifiable facts.

The Feature/ Human-Interest Story: These are the articles that describe people and/or events, but are neither hard nor soft news. These may be stories about local/national/international social campaigns, shops, ghost stories, academic achievements, entertainment segments, or travel destinations. Personal anecdotes and humor generally fall into this category although there may be some overlap in all categories except for 'hard' news. This is the opinion piece of the 'regular folks' often told in their own words. What they say about themselves or what they are doing is not so much factual -- although it certainly is from their points of view -- but anecdotal. It is how they describe, cope or view themselves and the people and/or events around them.

Checkpoints: Pagans spend a great deal of time debating and discussing 'facts' found in this type of article. While it is always important to correct false facts, often the 'facts' in this type of piece are really matters of varying perception. If you want to rebut a feature or human-interest story, make sure that your facts are indeed facts and cite your sources.

There are other types of articles that we could look at, but these are the main ones. And there are many other things that I could further expound upon, but others have already done so and some of those sources are listed below if you wish to learn more on your own. I try to keep my mini-tutorials as mini as I can.

If You Are Contacted: A reputable reporter or journalist will always identify him/herself and the venue that he/she is writing for. Up front. You can verify his/her credentials easily. Free-lancers should be able to provide a number for the editor that they are working for or point to previous work. Always ask what sort of article the reporter is planning and 'what is his/her point of view'. He or she will have one. If he/she seems a bit hesitant to reveal what the article point-of-view will be, use caution. Better safe than finding yourself explaining those quoted remarks to all of the Pagans you know (and some you don't) for the next three weeks.

News is wonderful thing. It takes many forms and fulfills many functions. It shapes our perception of the world. And because the news is so influential and indeed necessary, we have a right to expect that those who write and report on the news will mind their p's and q's. This is becoming an increasingly important topic for Pagans to consider. For the Pagans of today are not only reading the news and watching the news and commenting on the news...

We are making it.

Some additional sources:

Wren Walker
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, February, 10th., 2003




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