Jewish World Review June 4, 2012/ 17 Sivan, 5772
Exciting changes, or: How not to report the news
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Here's the latest from the digitized dystopia awaiting American newspapers and our their loyal, long-suffering readers:
"Exciting changes for our readers," promised the headline at the top of the Mobile Press-Register's front page the other day.
"A new digitally focused media company," the story starts ... and not till the end of thesecond paragraph is the reader told that, oh, by the way, the paper is also cutting its print editions to three days a week.
If that's an exciting change, what would a real downer be?
Talk about a buried lede. Not only was the bad news downplayed, it was played up as good news.
Compare how the
A story at the bottom of the same front page minced no words, softened no facts: "Loss of daily newspaper/ stirs passions in the city," said the headline. The story didn't try to hide readers' responses to the news:
"The reaction to this wrenching change in New Orleanians' way of life was a combination of shock, incredulity, anger and sadness, expressed in telephone calls, emails, tweets and
That these two announcements in neighboring cities were made on the same day --
Lord Northcliffe, the British publisher, once said "news is what someone else doesn't want you to know; everything else is advertising."
That distinction is lost when the news that a "daily" newspaper will be coming off the presses only three days a week is described as an exciting change. Depressing would be a more apt description.
But the bad news wasn't nearly so depressing as how it was reported. Something truly sad has happened when a town's newspaper starts sounding more like a house organ.
"People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news,"
Someone suggested that when the pink slips go out in Mobile, as they may soon enough, they ought to be headed: Exciting Changes Ahead: You're Fired!
Bad news happens. To all of us. It's presenting it as good news that galls.
It's painful to watch a daily newspaper that's been so useful -- and interesting -- as the Press Register in Mobile disappear from doorsteps and newsstands most weekdays. A tradition is being lost.
But how do you figure the value of what is being lost in Mobile and
To call this an "exciting change" is more than just an editing error; it amounts to a cruel joke on long loyal readers and those who write for them honestly and directly.
Self-promotion is part of this business, and maybe of any business. It's called advertising and it has a useful, indeed indispensable, role to play. For one thing, it keeps us in business.
But when the news is replaced by something else -- call it spin -- it serves neither the reader's interest nor the paper's. For it erodes a newspaper's greatest asset: the trust of its readers. That sort of thing really ought to be left to politicians.
It's hard to believe that any editor down in Mobile can believe the way this story was handled will add to the newspaper's credibility. It's an intangible quality, credibility, but it's easy to lose. And easy to tell -- at a glance -- when it's missing.
The most striking thing about this front-page story in the Press-Register ("Exciting changes for our readers/ New digitally focused media company will be launched this fall") is not what that headline says, but what it doesn't.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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