Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Poor news writing red-flags credibility

Plagued with unpolished grammar skills and a tabloid penny press style of yore, many high profile news sources have lost their luster.

What happened to good writers and valid journalism?

For many people, their first brush with the day is a review of the morning news
"On an average day, 31.99 million American college graduates read newspaper content online or offline." ( Add to that the large majority who can read without college degrees, and it's obvious news is popular. (The article, "stigma of ignorance is rampant without higher education" is for another time.) 

Today’s plethora of print and online news sources however, are diluted with articles disguised as journalism. "News" is often culled from agencies that feature writers without credentials or real-world industry experience.

Infiltrating the ranks of established journalists are ill-equipped writers who rely more on opinions than facts, and eschew professional editing (or opt for none). Likewise, op-eds, obscure blogs, and personal essays, have moved from the back pages to become front page “news.”

Online news aggregates, citizen news sites, and lifestyle publications masquerading as news, are especially guilty of this, with skillful presentation, gaining high readership. Unfortunately, articles are often published without vetting to weed out marginal or even spurious writers. Though many production-article writers may be credible and experienced journalists, those who are not, further decay the industry.

How to spot the aggregates … I, we, you vs. he, she, it …

Enter the era of biases – in all facets of our society.

The most obvious tip-off to a penny press article is first-person writing; verboten in traditional journalism. While the author may possess extensive knowledge of the topic, personal partiality in the article is not desired. Documented facts and pertinent source quotes comprise a mainstream news item (with the author’s credentials validating their expertise to write about the subject).

“The goal of The New York Times is to cover the news as impartially as possible — ‘without fear or favor,’ in the words of Adolph Ochs, our patriarch …” states the esteemed newspaper’s Standards and Ethics page.

Since the late 1880s, third person, unbiased and impartial writing, has personified modern professional journalism. First person writing is all about bias – and today, it’s marginal, clandestine news.

Established news services like AP, Reuters, and UPI still publish in the third person. However, even they have lost respect with lax fact-checking and slack editing. More symptoms of the news industry’s maladies.

Additionally, the World Wide Web has provided a forum for everyone’s opinion and successfully blurred the lines between opinion and information. Facebook posts and Twitter tweets have crisscrossed the lines of journalism and opinion so often that they’re nearly indistinguishable.

“The rise of citizen journalism has been controversial, because it raises the question: what does it mean to be a ‘professional’ journalist if everyone is a journalist?” (People.HowStuffWorks)

“Citizen Journalism” glorifies an intimate form of reporting, largely through videos; but accompanied by amateur writing, it is rife with hazards of news unreliability and reckless reporting practices. Rushed readers may not stop to consider the source and objectivity – or lack of.

When it comes to news, please – "All we want to know are the facts, ma’am."

Poor writing and journalistic skills are like other ills of the technology age – the general public has “allowed” many of the afflictions – accepting bogus privacy policies, heralding online financial trading, and applauding personal POV in the news. Now with those infrastructures in place, society's news reading apparently cannot survive or thrive without them.

America’s poorly represented academic environment adds to the dilemma with youthful reporters who eschew much of what came before them, anyway. (NOT “anyways”.) The result is a generational epitome of dumbing down in journalistic writing which vitiates bona fide news reporting.

Once upon a professional era, writers and news sources were measured by their quality standards to produce edited and factual articles – fewer typos and more skillful writing could result in prestigious Pulitzer Prize-winners.

Today, it’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am reading society, so why bother?

Well, for one – there’s still the venerable Pulitzer. But beyond that is the great beyond – the eternal World Wide Web. Do writers and their publications consider the longevity of a “published” article or other writing, in today’s forever-cached technology?

For all eternity a writer will be known for the dozen blunders in unverified content that was barely readable. What a proud legacy.

When reaching for vital events of the day, blogs, op-eds, essays and certainly, “citizen news,” should NOT be listed with traditional news articles, no matter how well written. (Yes, that includes this one.)

For more than a century, those writings were relegated to “lifestyle” sections – as they still should be.

Write first for yourself … only then can you write for others.

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