News: 5 guidelines

If one listens to all the noise generated by the pronouncements of President Donald Trump, he or she would have an excuse to doubting the whole landscape described as “News”. Putting aside Trump as a valid news source, let’s look at the basics of how we all should view journalism today.

  1. There is no such thing as ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ in News as generated by journalists of all kinds – print, broadcast, digital. There is a factual mistake or more in every story ever written. Should this concern us? Not really because such errors of fact are either so small as to have no effect on the whole story or are so large they are or become as obvious as a red wine spill on a white rug.
  2. Journalists produce two kinds of news, hard news – items based entirely on fact, and opinion pieces – items that contain or focus on the thoughts and views of the author. Don’t mistake one type of story for the other.
  3. Journalists, especially in hard news stories, rely on other people for statements of fact and opinions. To judge the validity of a fact or the basis of an opinion in a news item, consider the source and whether that person has the qualifications to provide reliable facts or educated opinions. If the source is doubtful (a bystander at a fire scene…) take what is quoted with a grain or a ton of salt. If the source is solid (the fire captain), rely on the quote as credible.
  4. The ‘news’ is dynamic; it changes every hour or even every minute. The very definition of news is something is flexible and subject to constant updating. Journalists report the latest information at the top of the story but still include previously published information later in the article. Read the news from the top down, realizing the stuff nearer the bottom may not longer be valid and certainly is not the most recent.
  5. News, as reported by journalists, is never the most reliable information in existence. Journalists are witnesses to things that have happened; they are not creators of these things. Journalists will know a lot, much more than you do. Their ‘news’ is quite likely interesting, often important in a general ‘need to know’ sense, but never is their news so immediate or so wide-reaching that it can be relied upon for significant actions in investment, safety, treatment of others or other very personal decisions.

These guidelines for reading, hearing and seeing news have been valid for decades. Actually, Trump hasn’t changed anything about real journalism.  The only reasonable thing to take from his comments is that you can’t trust anything this man says – and that, in itself, is a very sad bit of opinionated news.