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How The Media Manipulates The Facts

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Each day I read the news, it becomes more apparent just how untrustworthy the media truly is. Many media outlets have developed a habit of cherry-picking, or even contriving, the most salacious angles to headline unremarkable and non-newsworthy stories.

24-Hour News Cycle

The rapid-fire nature of today’s news has trained us to demand a constant fix of content that doesn’t always do justice to the facts. We barely have to move our head to be exposed to serial news hooks that glue us to our devices—but do we take the time to fact-check the content? Not usually, and media outlets use this to their advantage. My theory is that the mundane truth behind many news stories wouldn’t hold our attention, so questionable creative measures are opted for by the media.

Let’s illustrate with a perfect example. The national news recently featured a story about a television writer who left her production company because of a dispute with management. “Writer Leaves Job Due to Tiff With Management” is not exactly a front-page story, nor is it even newsworthy. But what if you pull in a celebrity spouse and frame a detail from the past and salaciously marry it with the writer’s departure? Now you’ve got a story apparently.

The story that was written about salaciously implied that the writer’s departure was tied to a previous incident involving an uncomfortable side hug from a producer. The truth is, the producer attended a workplace sensitivity training, the writer was satisfied with that, and the incident was resolved. Big whoop right? Yet, the current stories seem to imply a cause-effect relationship between the side-hug and the writer’s break with the company.

This isn’t fair to any of the players in the story as the producer’s role in the story is completely unrelated to the events. It’s not just adrenaline-hungry consumers that are driving this trend. News organizations struggle and flat out choose not to retain a relevant position.

Competition

As news consumers, we spend about a minute and a half on a story before moving on. Whether the full range of facts are revealed in that time frame or not, we’re done—and we miss a lot.

The news industry is more competitive than ever before. If I’m a news editor, knowing my livelihood depends on clicks and subscriptions, I may have come to prioritize attention-grabbing strategies in favor of facts. I may even conveniently assemble facts in such a way that stretches conclusions beyond what’s fair and balanced.

The side-hugging television producer happened to be married to a famous person. Well, once that barely third-paragraph-worthy fact made it into the headlines, it was a struggling media outlet’s dream.

Trending in the Wrong Direction

I think good reporting is still out there, but all too often, important, less-salacious facts end up buried in the middle of paragraph four or five and will not be read by many. For the most part, I think the trend is toward accommodating the short news cycle, competition for clicks, and a social-media era that struggles to prioritize facts. This is just plain wrong.

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