No News is Not an Option

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No News is Not an Option

We used to call the way a news story played out a “spin.” The word refers to the way the news writers contextualize information so that readers absorb the details and the meta messages – meta messages being underlying themes that are implied and inferred, but not shared explicitly. I think the days of the spin are over and we’ve reached anew stage in news gathering and dissemination: the spin has turned into a tornado.

There are so many online “news” sources providing so much “news” to the public that a spin is no longer enough to attract readers. Media outlets are forced to provide quadruple the content of 15 years ago with a fraction of the contributors. Competition is heavy and the best way to attract readers is to take the news and embellish. Unnamed sources, opinion pieces dotted with facts, and outright fabrication are all tools for the masses of online news publications.

For example, Teresa Keegan, a columnist at the Denver Post, recently wrote about parking problems in the city. She says there is an “affordable parking crisis” in downtown Denver.

Since parking lots are in short supply, then why not use parking meters?  Good luck finding one.  Prospective parkers are often confronted with entire city blocks of parking meters covered with red bags, meaning all parking, including loading and unloading, is prohibited.  Even if an open meter can be located, a variety of restrictions ensure that it is really only available on alternate Tuesdays between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. Defy those restrictions and your car will be towed.

I can’t tell you one way or another whether Keegan’s impression of parking in Denver is accurate, but she’s written about it and it has been published in a reputable newspaper online and probably in print. Her opinion has been countered by another columnist, Davis Sachs from denver.streetsblog.org, who writes:

In fairness to Keegan, who works for the Denver courts system, she’s probably not the only person who thinks that Denver needs more free parking. It’s really the Post’s fault for publishing drivel and trying to pass it off as informed opinion. More to the point, downtown parking shouldn’t be cheap, because it’s expensive to build and maintain and takes up a lot of scarce space. If the people who use parking don’t pay for its full costs, then everyone else will end up paying instead.

Who’s right? Are either of these writers experts on Denver area parking? My point is, that these are both opinion pieces and not news. Keegan and Sachs have space to fill and a word count to meet and that is their primary objective – find something to write about and make it sound interesting and credible whether it is or not.

A blog, even this one, shouldn’t ever be mistaken for news – it’s primarily a one-sided discussion of current events. It can provide insight and accurate information, but that’s not its true function. Its true function is to draw readers and encourage conversation.

We are all inundated with information on TV, on the internet, on our phones and through social media, but it’s up to us to separate the news, which consists of true and verified facts from knowledgeable sources, from the spin.

 

John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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