If you think you know what’s going on after having read the newspaper

Back when I was a journalist I used to think I had a good sense of what was going on, simply because I read a lot of newspapers.

But let me explain a little something about journalism.

Let’s say that I am going to write a simple article for a daily. I will begin by finding some sources. I will probably have some kind of document and perhaps two people to interview. By doing so I have already narrowed it down considerably. Few things in the world are such that they can fit into two opinions. There might be two or a thousand other people that would have something valuable to share on the subject and half of them might even be better qualified to do so than the two that I found. But shooting from the hip I chose those two.

The same goes for the document of course. There might be thousands of documents that are more relevant to the subject but I happened to get my hands on this one. It might have serious faults to it, but I wouldn’t know because in most cases I have no real knowledge about the subject.

Anyway, this is the document and these are the two experts I’m running with, so let’s question them no further. But for arguments sake, let’s say that the two experts I chose to interview actually know what they’re talking about.

So I go to meet them or I phone them. Let’s be realistic about this now. They don’t have all the time in the world and neither do I. We all have a job to do. If we were to measure these two peoples combined relevant knowledge on the subject matter they might be able to speak non-stop for a whole work day, because this subject isn’t really that complicated. I mean, it isn’t the situation in the Middle East or anything like that. It’s something simple, so eight hours would do. My interview with them will run between 5 and 20 minutes per person and how well I manage to understand the subject will depend on how good my questions are. So from eight hours of knowledge I have gotten my hands on 40 minutes, and that, I might mention, is counting really high. Most of that time will more likely be spent trying to find and get hold of the person.

From Angry People in Local Newspapers - It's all kicking off in Staines by norbet1 on Flickr
Photo: From Angry People in Local Newspapers – It’s all kicking off in Staines by norbet1 on Flickr

But let’s say that we are really lucky and super productive today. What to do with these 40 minutes of pure knowledge? Well, I have probably written it down somehow and most of it is forever lost in scribbles that I can no longer understand. From the ones I can understand I will then choose to quote three, six or even ten sentences a person. So from 40 minutes down to 20 sentences. Hopefully I will have chosen the ones that are the most relevant to the subject, but to be honest again – probably not. I might have misunderstood or the scribbles of my quote might be totally backwards.

When I have written the article I will hopefully have enough time to phone the people that I have interviewed to check their quotes, but again, let’s be honest about this. Newspapers nowadays are streamlined with next to no time for fact checking, quote checking or even spell checking, so the article will probably run in the shape it was when I first finished it.

So what does that leave us with? If four people have even two hours worth of relevant information and opinion on the matter, that amounts to eight hours of information, or 480 minutes. At random I get my hands on 40 minutes of it, which I then reduce to 20 sentences, which is certainly no more than 2 minutes. 2 minutes of 480 is 0,4 percent. That is how much of the full story you are getting, and that is not even mentioning all the factual errors, the mistakes, the propaganda and the outright lies that riddle our newspapers. Of course I’m making all these figures up, but you get the point, don’t you?

Do you really think that you know what’s going on?

Photo: Newspaper Head by a Wall by Garry Knight on Flickr

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather
Facebookrssby feather

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *