Jan 23, 2011

Journalism 101. Making a meaningless story into a lead story.

Sometimes it is done innocently but mostly it is practicing what is taught in Journalism 101 - "hype a trend."

More often hyping a trend is done purposely to get recognition for the journalist.

But even if the journalist does it innocently, hyping a "trend" can lead to a complete misunderstanding of what is really going on.

How does it work? Whenever an event makes a big splash, local reporters and editors will add it to their informal lists of things to watch for.

Every instance of a similar event will get the journalist in print until it becomes common enough that interest wanes.

Here's an example:

A train derailed in Texas (doesn't matter where) and a tank car ruptured, leaking toxic chemicals. Fumes drifted across a busy highway, causing casualties.

The journalist instinctively asks what was aboard the tank car that ruptured.

If the contents sounded sufficiently alarming, the lead would say something like "A train carrying toxic sulfuric acid derailed just 10 miles from a school on Sunday."

By hyping every little story of train accidents for the next year or so it appeared that the nation had a dangerous train problem.

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A good example of a recent hyped story was the report about the politically motivated Sheriff Dupnik (shown on left below) from Tucson who was paraded in front of news cameras and newspaper journalists for the next two days without letup.

The story was hyped until someone suddenly told the sheriff to shut up.

It's hard to forget watching and reading about Sheriff Dupnik using "vitriolic" political rhetoric while blaming "vitriolic" political rhetoric for the shootings in Tucson two weeks ago.

When asked if he had evidence suggesting the young shooter was motivated by conservative rhetoric, the sheriff replied, "not yet."

The sheriff assumed his story would not be challenged. He was right. CNN didn't challenge the story. MSNBC did not challenge. Did ABC, CBS or NBC challenge Dupnik? If they did we missed it. Fox News supplied the only challenge to the left-leaning opinionated sheriff.

As a result of this hyped story, the public defenders for Jared Loughner (shown on right above) will have an advantage when trying to get an insanity plea.