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November 13, 2014

News Media

Dear News Media,

You seem to be confused on a number of fairly obvious things. I thought I would help you with a few of them.

  1. Use the proper terminology when presenting information. "Going viral" does not mean something that is temporarily getting larger notice than usual. For example, that article about the guy who had some (good, quality) suggestions for the BC Ferry? 800 "Likes" does not equal "going viral." Thousands (multiple) of Likes/Retweets/Plusses/Views, if not millions, are needed to make something "go viral." It needs to be seen/read by people nowhere associated with the thing and passed along by them. Misusing "going viral" actually denigrates the source. The 800 Likes the BC Ferry comments received is not a "rant" that has "gone viral" -- it is a well-written example of issues with the BC Ferry program that a number of people in the area agree with. BC Ferry should listen to and consider the information. But by having the News Media blow it out of proportion by using these buzzwords, BC Ferry may ignore the advice and the good ideas. "Selfie" means a picture taken of yourself (sometimes including friends, where the term "Us-sie" (pronounced like 'fussy') takes precedence), usually using your own camera. If the picture is taken such that it is impossible for the subject of the picture to be holding the camera and taking it of him/herself, then the proper term for the result is either "picture" or "photograph." Since most News Media still employ cameramen and photographers, I'm surprised I need to remind you of this.
  2. Assign people to cover a story who understand the story elements. We frequently read or watch news items that get obvious things wrongs. For example, a recent news article about "Captain Marvel" was written by a person who didn't know that both Marvel and DC Comics have (had) characters who use that monicker. The intent of the article was to present the new, female, Marvel character and the fact that she's going to be in a movie. The article writer didn't understand the subject, did little to no fact checking or research, and constantly referenced the DC Comics character who used to use that name. That's an egregious error, as the audience for that news item will undoubted know the subject and will jump on the mistakes. Similarly, when writing about the TPP, Net neutrality, Keystone pipeline, or other technical or scientific news items, make sure the reporter has a basic understanding or will do the research required to get that understanding before turning in the story.
  3. Quite literally, every single person I have ever talked to would rather pay attention to News Media that gets their facts right, vets the story properly, and presents it accurately than the News Media that is simply first. Being right and accurate still counts for a lot with the people. Try it.
  4. It is also important not to speculate, rush to judge, or present information that you haven't yet vetted -- especially during live events. If you need an example of how to handle these rapidly unfolding live events, look to the CBC's coverage of the shooter in Ottawa. They kept speculation to a minimum, they carefully checked their sources and their facts before conveying them, they were calm as they presented the details as they knew them, and they kept the public informed. It was a master class in journalism. Learn it.
  5. Lastly, just because someone says it as a representative of your News Media outlet does not make it a fact. Anything said should be considered their opinion, and labeled as such, unless they have vetted facts to justify their conclusion. Too many times I see talking heads saying something that is most definitely their opinion but you present it as though it is a fact. It is not. And it confuses too many people. Of course, since you have never corrected this, I have to assume you intend to confuse people, which is the exact opposite of what the News Media is for and how it is supposed to work. So, if you aren't News, what are you exactly?
I'm sure there are more cases where you have failed us, News Media, but I think these steps will help minimize the damage you can do to your audience. Let's get you back to presenting the news, without hyperbole or bloviation. Give us the facts and, if you are going to present opinion, then label it as such very clearly. It's quite simple, really.


A fan of proper news media