I recently wrote a post on Medium about how the news media can mislead readers and viewers about what happened at an event based on how they choose to report on it — both in terms of what they put in a story and what they leave out.
Another way news outlets can affect how news is reported is by altering the context of an article. This isn’t about the old cliche of a person’s quote “being taken out of context” either.
I had a situation the other day where a reporter covered an event and got all of the quotes right and put together what I would consider to be a relatively positive news story. And, yet, it still wasn’t quite right because the context of the entire story — the premise for why elected officials were at a location together — was misrepresented.
The story had to do with a bus tour of the city of Detroit that took place at the end of a three-day conference on Great Lakes issues. Among those on the bus were Michigan’s governor, the lieutenant governor from Pennsylvania, and the Premier from Ontario, Canada. That’s a pretty good representation of newsmakers, so we alerted media they would be making a stop during the tour and reporters could meet us there.
The interviews were all positive and all three dignitaries — particularly the two visitors to Michigan — had some great things to say about Detroit. The comeback they were seeing, the speed at which it was happening, and the lessons learned that they could take home with them were commented on by the two visiting officials.
I posted two tweets from the tour stop at @aribadler. I’m so glad I decided to put something on Twitter to share what was really happening because it ended up being the only record of the truth. The TV stations, from what I’ve been able to find — or not find in this case — didn’t report on the stop at all.
And none of the comments about Detroit’s comeback or the visitor’s impressions made it into the newspaper article. Instead, the article was about just the governor and the premier, not even mentioning that Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor was there. The premise of the story also completely altered the purpose of the tour the group was taking.Instead of talking about a look at the city and how it was being revitalized — which was the actual point — the reporter decided to tie the whole thing into Detroit’s bid for the new Amazon headquarters.
No one had even mentioned the Amazon bid until the end of the interview when the reporter brought it up as the last question.
Again, the quotes were accurate, the story was well written and the whole thing came across as positive. But since she made it seem like the governor and premier were on a tour to tout the Amazon bid, the whole article was inaccurately reporting what was happening.
In this era of #fakenews and the media’s credibility at an incredibly low point in history, it’s frustrating for me to see this sort of thing happening. Once again, I had firsthand knowledge of the whole story and saw the media manipulate it in a way that completely changed what the story was about. It is making me start to question every news story.
I have never been as skeptical of media reports as I am at this point in my life because I’ve seen too many inaccuracies and too many biased reports. And this is a prime example of how a story can be technically accurate and yet completely misleading.
I don’t think the reporter was doing anything deliberately malicious in the way she wrote her article. But seeing a piece that gets it wrong in a business where the facts and their context are vital to telling the whole story is deeply troubling.
So, once again, when you’re looking at a news report, always listen for that little voice in your head that should be whispering, “Is that really all there is to this…or what’s the rest of the story?”