Monday, October 10, 2011

Do you believe what you read in the papers?

by C.L. Phillips

Question :  Do you believe what you read in the paper? 

I've been thinking about this question for some time.  A dear friend said, "When I was twelve years old, my cousin was shot and killed.  The only thing the paper got right in the story was his name and age."  She never believes anything she reads in the press.

Having no experience with newspapers, I wonder what experiences you've had.  When  reading the news, either in the paper or on the internet, or listen to a television or radio broadcast, how much of what we read is speculative fiction?

The first time I followed a big trial, it was the O.J. Simpson trial.  I loved Dominick Dunne's stories in Vanity Fair magazine.  Between he and Jeffrey Toobin, I realized every writer selects a different point of view and set of information filters when telling the story, no matter how honorable their intentions and professionalism.

So what do you believe when you read about a crime, or a kidnapping, or a big murder case?

Is there anyone you trust to give you the story a la Joe Friday of Dragnet, with "just the facts"?

Any advice on how to separate the story from the facts when reading old newspaper accounts and doing historical research for your own writing?

Happy Monday!


Gina said...

C.L. -
I tend to take everything with a grain of salt because whenever I've read or watched new reports about things I knew the true facts about, the newspapers and tv news always got a lot of the details wrong.

Kelly Robinson said...

I do historical research related to a particular subject and I constantly see sensational stories reported as "new breakthroughs" or somesuch when it was something discovered as many as fifty or more years ago. I think some of that is due to the fact that the writers don't know a lot about the subject and don't bother to verify that the press release (which is almost always self-serving to someone) is true.

Laurie said...

I think that everyone has a "personal filter" that they view and hear things through and this often comes into play when things are memorialized.

I believe that even when someone is trying their hardest to be objective, there's always that darned "filter" that gets in the way. I feel that sometimes what we believe to be true, isn't always what another person, believing that they also know the truth as heard or viewed through their filter, believes to be true.

Of course, this is different from out and out libel, sensationalism, or sloppy reporting.

Patg said...

I have a futuristic story where public information (the papers) must have two POVs on every story.
It drags 'editorials' for everybody and their cat's opinions.

Joyce said...

Having worked in a police department for ten years, I can tell you most of what you watch on the TV news is twisted to sensationalize the crime. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story to increase your ratings. Newspapers are a little better, but not much.

I remember one instance where a certain local TV station completely fabricated a story. We had a report that a woman was grabbed from behind when she got off the bus. She screamed and the actor ran away. Shortly after that, the neighboring PD had a report where a similar thing happened at a gas station. All of a sudden, according to the news on that TV station, we had a serial rapist dragging women into the bushes. NEVER happened.

C.L. Phillips said...

I've enjoyed reading everyone's take on this.

New question : Do you think everyone reads the news with a big grain of salt, or only more discerning readers?

You never know, this could end up "informing" one of my evil plots. :)

Many thanks to all...

Joyce said...

Too many people take what they see on the news or read in the paper as gospel truth. I think that's part of the problem with politics in this country. No one can be bothered checking facts anymore.

Ramona said...

My husband is a longtime journalist. He started out as an intern, worked the three C's (crime, courts, city) as a young reporter and even did a stint as a film critic. Now he's an online/media editor for the largest newspaper chain in the US. He has a filing cabinet drawer full of awards, and an Emmy. He went into journalism when it was considered a noble profession that exposed a corrupt president and worked on behalf of the common citizen. He still believes that.

Here are some simple things to know about the people who write your news stories: 1. Most beat reporters are young people starting out who cover numerous stories each day. 2. Papers no longer update by edition (2 times a day, for print runs) but constantly during the day. This means deadlines are constant. 3. On daily crime stories, the flow of information is between the police dept's PIO and a reporter. Most of the info reported comes from police press releases or bulletins. 4. People lie and embellish to the press just as they lie and embellish to the police. 5. If you see typos in the paper and wonder where are the copy editors--they've all been laid off. Do you find errors or typos in your fiction? Imagine producing thousands of words each day without an editor. 6. Reporters and editors are not mystery people. They are your neighbors, friends, co-parents, and they want to do a good and decent job. They have to distill information from another source who may or may not be telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and they have to do it quickly. And all of their mistakes are right there in print, with their name attached to it.

Should you believe everything you read? No. News stories are written by people, some of whom are good, some of whom are lazy or incompetent, and all of whom make mistakes.

C.L. Phillips said...


I knew the news business had changed, but had no idea of how those changes impacted what we read. Thanks for sharing meaty details.

Y'all have really helped me sharpen an idea I've been considering for my next novel.

Many, many thanks!