COMMENTARY: WHERE NEWS MEETS CULTURE

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Advice for Newsrooms: 3 Things You Can't Ignore

Jaci Clement CEO & Executive Director, Fair Media Council

Jaci Clement

photo by Bob Giglione

Fair warning: You’re about to step into year-in-review season. 

While you’ve been busy making your holiday plans, the news media has been working in stealth mode. The covert operation has focused on compiling news of the past year and repurposing it in a way that seeks to convince you that, yes, this is the first time you are learning about all this stuff. Now, since 2020 has been cloaked in politics and pandemic news — so much so that Pantone really should rethink Classic Blue as its color of the year and just go with basic black — let’s hope a few news outlets go rogue and offer up a bit more food for thought than what mainstream media has been feeding us for the past 12 months.

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But traditions die hard, and year-in-review content is a tradition. Truth is, you like it. And newsrooms like it, because it not only makes you happy but it enables staffers to file the copy in advance and hightail it into holiday mode. This year, that basically boils down to shopping for ugly-sweater face masks on Amazon with a cocktail in hand.

So let’s fast forward to evolving news trends for the next year.

First up, it seems newsrooms are waking up to the fact they’ve lost sight of what breaking news means. The novelty of getting news delivered every moment of the day has worn off, and information fatigue has settled in across the land. Just because a story is published does not make it breaking news. Weather events are breaking news. Regular weather? Not so much. Alerts that weather will happen next week really aren’t necessary. Calm down.

Transparency

It’s also time to take a few moments to focus on the act of storytelling. The basic journalism formula calls for writing in an inverted paragraph, which means putting the most important information upfront. It’s challenging because stuffing all the relevant info into a few sentences demands the talents of a good writer, but it’s vital because the public generally stops reading after the first three paragraphs of a story. If we haven’t already mentioned that reporting skills and writing skills are two entirely separate skill sets, now would be the proper time to bring it up. Instead of storytelling, what’s passing for modern-day journalism is a series of inverted pyramids within one story. It reads like this: Here’s what one source told me. Now here’s what the next source told me. And so on. Let’s be clear: We’re not looking for Shakespearean-quality sonnets, just something that doesn’t quite dull all of the senses. Storytelling failures also result in fairness being tossed out the window: The last sentence of a story is not the place to reveal a person denies being guilty of an alleged crime. 

Trust

There’s really just one more thing to say on this subject and it’s this: Copy editors need love. They so desperately deserve it. A good copy editor can turn a news story into something special. In fact, it’s the copy editors that actually define a newsroom’s brand, setting the tone and quality of each story so you immediately can recognize the source of a story. At the very least, these are the people who need the latitude to toss a bad story back to a reporter for a redo. At best, these people deserve to have their names on the stories they edit, along with the reporter’s byline. Transparency into the news process is important to gain public trust. The recognition of a copy editor’s work is important for morale. 

These three things work to increase the distance between quality news and all the other stuff out there. They also pave the way for the future: MediaPost reports more people are now willing to pay for news they trust than before the pandemic began. Newsrooms can’t afford to take this moment in time for granted

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