Every day we are bombarded by hundreds of pieces of information vying for our attention which makes it difficult to decipher what is going on. Additionally, we are faced with a media that can spin a story about something so well you would swear that a story was the truth until you read a different story that shows that the first was, in fact, a lie. So how do we make sense of it all?
I have 7 questions to ask of everything we read (or watch) in the news to help make sense of it all. We will deal with the first three today and the final four on Wednesday. But today’s big topic is: The Author.
Who is writing?
This seems a bit elementary, but consider your source. We do this in our normal conversations (we don’t take what everyone says the same way based on their knowledge about them) and we should do this in normal life. But this can become difficult because there are so many different reporters, it would be nearly impossible to remember them all. So consider the publication in which they are writing. Every newspaper, website and tv station has a particular leaning in their worldview. So when you don’t know the author, keep the publisher’s leanings in mind.
REMEMBER: There is no such thing and completely objective reporting. Telling a story means that you include some details and leave some details out. Telling a story means that you highlight what you think is important, and minimize what you think isn’t important. Telling s story means that you have an outlook on the event or issue and that outlook may be vastly different from someone else’s outlook. Complete objectivity in reporting is impossible so remember the author.
What is the topic of the story?
We all know that certain topics are polarizing and that there is rarely, if ever, any middle ground. When the issue is one like this just keep in mind that you are probably reading a story that will be heavily slanted one way. Other issues aren’t as heated and there is room for debate but bear in mind that if it is one of the hot button issues of the day, you are unlikely to get reporting that isn’t slanted one way or the other.
What’s the big idea?
This sounds simple but once you read the article, boil it down to the big idea. It may be: The President went to X country and met with President Y, they discussed Z. But the story may be slanted to highlight Z (see Part 2). If nothing else, you should do this for every article because if you haven’t done this then you don’t haven’t understood the article.
What is the author’s desired response?
One more thing about authors: They want to feel a certain way about the big idea. Communication is necessarily purposeful. We communicate for a variety of purposes: to inform, entertain, persuade, etc. So when it comes to the news we must ask the purpose for which the piece is written. Every reporter reports for the purpose of informing their audience, but they don’t want to merely understand some set of facts. They want people do feel some way or do something with those facts. The point of The question that readers must ask is what is the desired response the author is seeking.
This can be a difficult task but it is also a task we do intuitively in other situations. We just need to know what we are looking for, so stay tuned.