Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co
I was thinking about ‘stories’ the other day and how the word itself has the implication that a story contains some element of ‘make believe’. When we read a newspaper story, however, we believe the story to contain the truth, not make believe.
So are there true stories?
As I followed my fanciful thoughts I came to realise ‘the truth of the matter’ is far from ‘the truth’ because no matter who is writing the account it is seen through their filters. Even autobiographies (written by the subject person) are filtered remembrances because who wants the world to know about their embarrassing or shameful moments? And if they do want to share them, doesn’t the author skew the account to elevate their part and play down their protagonist’s part?
I thought back to the time when I was a newspaper reporter and considered how make believe might have sneaked into my writing. Embarrassing confession: it did regularly.
My first filter was which of the leads did I want to spend most time on? You’d expect the answer to be the one of most public interest. The answer, however, was always the story that most appealed to me personally. Subconsciously I’d assume that because it appealed to me, it would also appeal to everyone.
Less important information
When writing the story I would highlight the facts that enhanced my viewpoint and minimise comments or information that didn’t feel quite so important. Even though I reported this ‘less important’ information it would be relegated to the last paragraphs which the sub-editor would cut if space was tight.
My important story would be allowed an accompanying colour picture and would probably be given the largest headline. The reader subconsciously would assume that the picture and large headline meant this was an important story.
News filters the truth
Imagine what is happening in the US at the moment. Picture the differences in reports of President Trumps’ saying and doings. Same story/report of actual facts will be written with different filters and appear in print as if the writers were listening to different events or broadcasts.
The readers, viewers or listeners will hear only what they are expecting to hear. They will apply their own filters and accept or reject the reporter’s bias – their filter. When stories link into emotional issues, as President Trump is doing, the blurring of reported facts becomes catastrophic. Such stories can lead to hatred, riots and war.
Editorial versus Reporting
We accept that an editorial contains some element of opinion and therefore ‘make believe’. We don’t expect a news report to contain make believe. However, I would challenge anyone, whatever side of the Trump debates they sit, to say they can eliminate their personal bias or filter from what they write on the issues Trump raises.
And guess what? I don’t think reporters should. Whatever moral ground, religious filter or belief you have should be applied to any news report, just as you would to an editorial. Public debate is important, dissension is important. These are the tools that define a nation’s moral codes on which are built our judicial system and laws.