No News is Bad News
I had no idea that picking up a newspaper every day would start an addiction to USA Today. The USA Today?? Really? I never even looked at that paper before this assignment, but I am now a strong believer that they have some of the truly strongest writers out there. It remains informative with detailed descriptions and intriguing headlines. I believe that this publication is one of the better readables in print. Even throughout controversial material, most of these journalists are able to put on a convincing role of objective reporting while – amazingly – making the material interesting through colorful articulation. With one creative hand on the pen, they slowly wrap the other around the reader’s neck. Eager for circulation, the audience is helplessly rapt. The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, has – in my opinion – a dry, musty and formulaic “style” which in no way captured my attention. And I tried. I really did. A newspaper revered for its credibility and popular throughout the nation ought to be a bit more engaging… and I couldn’t even complete a single article. But everything is a matter of taste, is it not? And I prefer my Vanilla Chai Latte, my plain bagel with Garden Vegetable Shmear, and my USA Today. After reading The Denver Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post (online), Yahoo! News and The Onion, my ink-stained fingers devoured the delectable and recycled the unpalatable.
One thing I noticed right away was that the inverted pyramid is somewhat rare – or, at least, most papers don’t stick to the “strictly facts” format for which the inverted pyramid was intended. On matters of controversy, one can almost always find leanings of subjectivity where there pretends to be none. Why? Because journalists are human beings, not computers. As a writer myself, I am aware that there are ways to make the other side seem weaker, even as you are reporting “strictly facts.” Creative verbage can lean your audience one way or another without betraying your own bias.
For instance, action words vs. intention words… if I want to lend credibility to Obama and take it away from George Bush, I’d use words in this way: “Obama asserted… Obama achieved… Obama completed work on… Obama ended the… Obama realizes… Obama DID,” – or any other awesome word for “did.” But with Bush, I’d use words that indicated speculation and inactivity or that show room for doubt: “Bush believes… Bush thinks… Bush might (do something)… Bush feels that…” In this way, I’m casting doubt on the effectiveness of Bush’s behavior or possible future actions. This technique is all over the papers, especially the Denver Post.
Also, when quoting the other side (for “balanced reporting” – haha), be sure to use the dumbest quote. Go heavy on the credentials for the side you’re on while downplaying credentials for the other side – like this:
“Global warming isn’t just a problem for America; it’s a problem for the whole world,” affirmed Dr. John Clyde, UNCOMG Scientist and Harvard graduate. Dr. Clyde is the head of the Board of Scientists at UCLA and has dedicated his life to investigating the possibility of global warming prevention ever since he found evidence of the hypothesis four years ago. He says it will…. (Make it professional, using tight argumentative logic… then move on to your opponent and say): George Phunky, a 3rd grade teacher in Louisiana, protests the possibility. He says the concept is ridiculous. “I think if it’s not in the Bible, this stuff just can’t be right. I think it’s a bunch of hooey.”
Did you see what I did? Well, that’s how it works in the papers. Typically, the stuff I’ve been reading in the post has been liberal, but they switch it up. However, if you look for the persuasive techniques I described above, you can find them. What I like about USA Today is that it’s much harder to find that type of partisan journalism between the lines. Here is an example of a front page article in the post, clearly written by a right-leaning dude: Dems, GOP make final push. It’s designed to appear more like a scientific analysis of polling trends, but it’s pretty obvious that the whole point of this article was to push the idea of widespread republicanism and lack of faith in the democratic party. It was on the front page, where people don’t expect to see opinion, so it might go right under the radar and people might swallow this as fact. Another tricky way to get people to believe you is to mix up fact with opinions. That technique was also implemented in this case.
Even though this USA Today front pag-er is still right-leaning, it isn’t as obvious: 5 ways the election will change washington.
Hilariously, the Onion is the number one user of the inverted pyramid. Unfortunately, the idea is to mock its use in order to show how funny it sounds to mass produce formulaic journalism. The great thing is, it’s almost all opinion, but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint it; since it’s a sardonic, witty, humorous, for-entertainment-only rag, it’s practically impossible to nail down an agenda half the time. Are they saying this to prove how ridiculous it is, or are they saying this to make us think about it? Hmm. Maybe the Onion – with utterly unpolitical headlines such as, “***hole With $12,000 In Checking Account Leaves Receipt at ATM,” – has the sneakiest technique of subjective reporting ever. Mix it up; confuse the reader about your intentions. Is this article just a joke? What should I think about this? Am I thinking too hard? Well, anyway, it’s funny.
At the end of the day, does the Onion inspire more individuals to form their own conclusions than the “objective” news itself?
Who can say? I guess we’d have to take a poll… but then we’d have to have someone interpret the results for us so that we can form an opinion about the results of our opinions.