Dale Dougherty fills us in on how news is made.

There’s a good article up on Boing Boing about how a lot of the news these days is partially or wholly created from little more than a press release. How true the press release actually is, however, is often times a secondary consideration if it’s a consideration at all.

There should be a book titled “How News Is Made,” a book that could be for journalism what “The Jungle” was to the meatpacking industry. My version would offer no conspiracy theory, but I’d point out the preponderance of sloppiness and lazy thinking coupled with a herd mentality, most especially in business journalism. I found a great example to illustrate what I’ve been thinking about, tipped off by an article written by Carl Bialik in the Wall Street Journal.

Back in my early 20’s I worked as a security guard at The Oakland Press, a local newspaper, and in the course of my rounds I got to see first hand how a moderately sized newspaper is produced and became pretty good friends with many of the reporters and editors. Even back then there was a certain amount of news-by-press-release taking place so this article doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me. It seems, though, that this practice has become more or less the norm for a good amount of the news stories that you read these days. At least for those news items that aren’t considered hard journalism. The drawback to this is that if you actually have an interest in one of these stories you often have to pay particular attention to the news over several days before the real story comes out. If you’re not already aware of this tendency then the article is probably going to be a bit of a surprise. Worth checking out.

5 thoughts on “Dale Dougherty fills us in on how news is made.

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  3. Good article, Les, and unfortunately symptomatic of a very general problem, not just affecting news stories.  Of course, no one can process all the information available about every topic- there’s simply too much data, and with the development of spoken, printed, and electronic media, the flow has become a flood.

    Increasingly, it’s not “I saw three cats up a tree”, but “Fred says there are some animals in a tree”, “Jane says Fred said there are faces in a bush”, and so on, with the sources most often obscured.

    So now we get into credibility problems, going from “can I trust my eyes?” to “is Fred reliable?” to “does Jane adequately summarize Fred’s position?”, with secondary, tertiary, to nthiary authorities swaying public opinion.
    Unavoidable part of the human condition, unless you live alone in a cave.  One that must continually be fought.

  4. From the NRF website:

    Washington, DC, January 13, 2005—Despite premature, gloomy sales reports from some groups, the consumer has hit another home run for the retail industry. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), December retail sales in the GAFS category (general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliances stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores) rose a whopping 6.4 percent over the previous year and increased 0.5 percent seasonally adjusted from November.

    Combined, November and December brought holiday sales growth to 5.7 percent, the strongest growth since 1999 and higher than last year’s 5.1 percent increase. NRF had been predicting a 4.5 percent GAFS sales increase since September.

    No mention of actual sales numbers..just percentage increases, and how everything is better than expected.

    This is right out of 1984.

  5. Great article. Looks like a top caliber journalist work to me. Personally, I agree that the real news comes in late. For readers, it is hard to figure out what to expect when all the details have been established.

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