While attending Morehead State College in Morehead, Ky. from 1959-1963, I completed Journalism I and Journalism II and wrote feature stories for “The Trail Blazer,” the school’s newspaper.
Determining what is factual and what is not is like a prospector searching for gold in an area where there are deposits of fool’s gold.
The journalistic standard of finding a news source and another to confirm the news source’s information is crucial to avoid being duped during investigative reporting.
Political operatives, shysters and those with ulterior motives have hidden agendas or a particular “ax to grind.”
The journalist, therefore, is like a player in the game of dodge ball, striving to stay in the game without being hit with misinformation that is then shared with readers.
The term, “hard news,” comes to mind, and from the beginning of my journalistic endeavors, the Five Ws plus H (who, what, when, where, why and how) have served me well.
Then there are those “soft news” stories such as human interest stories that provide readers with information about a person, place, thing, or idea in a way that entertains the reader while providing in depth information about the subject.
While feature stories have some of the elements of news stories, they are not confined to presenting the Five Ws plus H arranged into the inverted pyramid style of writing that presents the most important information first with the next most important information second and so forth until there is no information left to be published.
The first cardinal rule of journalism is to get the facts straight in order to avoid presenting misinformation to the reader.
Misperception can lead to misinformation being rendered without the intention to deceive.
For example, at a recent Clifton Forge Town Council meeting, I perceived that two council members voted to approve the rezoning of the 500 block of Commercial Ave. while the other two councilmen voted against the rezoning.
As it turned out, I mistakenly perceived the way all four voted and reported just the opposite of the way all four voted. That led to a “For the Record” correction in the following edition of the newspaper.
In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt was preparing to go on safari in Africa when he learned that the “Valley Register” in rural Maryland near the Virginia border reported that a winged monster had attacked a man and sucked his blood like a huge vampire bat.
The monster was called the Snallygaster, and it was reported that Roosevelt revised his plan to go to Africa on safari and began preparing to hunt the Snallygaster.
As it turned out, the editor of “Valley Register” had perpetrated a hoax on the public by publishing a fictional account of events in order to sell more newspapers.
So, the integrity of those reporting is of utmost importance in order to avoid creating a hoax.
Unfortunately, those who peddle misinformation continue to find ways to infiltrate the news media by design rather than by mistake.
As a journalist who was paid for reporting news for the first time in 1956, I have taught journalism classes on the high school level, sold hundreds of articles as a freelancer and currently hold the position of editor.
My pledge to readers is to avoid spinning the news while seeking to report the news accurately in an interesting way.