Sunday, June 28, 2015

The hard news questions

By Cristin Nelson

My goal for this post is to share some thoughts about my experience writing the hard news story due last Friday.

I struggled with the tone and format of the article, but in the end, I decided to write it as a hard news story (as opposed to a “reax”).  My struggle with writing it as a hard news story stemmed from the fact that the purpose of a press release is for an organization to get exposure.  I believe that companies and organizations often invent “news” and send it out via press release only to further their agenda or to get their name in the paper.  So, why do we think that an AARP study finding value in older employees is anything other than AARP trying to ensure their own relevance?  How can we truly verify this information released from a company that has a dog in the fight?  Even if we contact the company for more information, how can we be sure they are giving us the whole story?

And, how do we know that by reporting it, we’re not just being used as the company’s marketing tool?  A line in the AARP press release indicated that they had done the same study 10 years earlier, with very similar findings.  (I can imagine that if a study delivered any other result, AARP would not publish it.)  I do believe that workers over 50 add value to the workplace.  But is a study with such a slam-dunk result—such a foregone conclusion—really news?  People of all sorts might enjoy reading about this, but the subject material isn’t especially groundbreaking.  And, in that case, I start to wonder how close we’re coming to marketing AARP’s agenda.

One time, within the last year or so, I pitched a story about a study released showing that over the years, potatoes had been unjustly slapped with a negative nutritional reputation—that in fact, far from being empty carbs, they had plenty of nutrition.  The editor wrote back that she thought this might be a tool from Big Potato, trying to increase sales, and we didn’t run with it.  I guess my question is: how do we know when we’re being used, and what do we do about it?  Any and all thoughts welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Didn't Jeremy give us an example yesterday about doing a background check and discovering someone had a conflict of interest? Sadly, I can't remember the details, but in these days of infomercials and 24/7 news reporting, fact checking is more and more difficult and more and more necessary.

    I'm reminded of the story a high school teacher friend of mine told me. She worked in Belmont and had made an offhand comment about a student's paper in the teacher's lounge, when a colleague said that one of her students had turned in the same paper. The plagiarism might never have been discovered if my friend had not taken a break for coffee at that time. I only bring this up to say I think that sometimes it also takes a bit of luck to discover or uncover a lie, if someone really wants to deceive you.