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EDITORIAL: Ask yourself: Does it pass the Truth test?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let's talk about news.

Specifically, what makes a news happening or piece of information worthy of being "news" and included in the paper.

Following is a list of six factors -- widely accepted and used as standards in the business of journalism, and typically taught in basic journalism classes -- that are considered when deciding whether a story is newsworthy. When an editor needs to decide whether to run with a particular story, s/he will ask how well the story meets each of these criteria. Normally, a story should perform well in at least two areas, preferably more.

Naturally, competition plays a part. If there are a lot of newsworthy stories competing for space in a particular issue, then some stories -- the ones with the lowest "scores" on the newsworthiness test -- will be dropped. Although some stories can be delayed until a new slot becomes available, time-sensitive news will often be dropped permanently. Because once it's old, it's old, and fails to meet the most important test of all: Timeliness.

1. Timeliness -- The word news means exactly that: things that are new. A common motto in the news industry is "If it happened today, it's news. If the same thing happened two weeks ago, it's no longer interesting."

2. Novelty -- Another old saying in the news business goes, "When a dog bites a man, no one cares. When the man bites back -- now that's a news story." The idea, of course, is that any deviation from the normal, expected course of events is something novel, and thus newsworthy.

3. Impact -- The number of people affected by the story is important. A fire in which six people are injured is more significant than a fire that injures one, and so forth.

4. Proximity -- Stories that happen near to us have more significance. The closer the story to home, the more newsworthy it is.

5. Prominence -- Famous people and elected officials or community leaders get more coverage just because they are "famous." If you break your arm it won't make the news, but if the mayor or governor breaks his or her arm, it's news. (Don't ask why; it just is!)

6. Human Interest -- Human interest stories are a special case. They often disregard the main rules of newsworthiness; for example, they don't date as quickly, and they need not affect a large number of people. But most importantly, human interest stories appeal to emotion. They aim to evoke responses such as amusement or sadness, and "touch" the readers.

Now, above ALL these factors, one thing is always required of a news story: Truth. The story must be factual, accurate and honest. It must not misrepresent facts, or lead readers to misunderstand the news or to be confused about the Truth -- whether inadvertently or otherwise.

This is where our latest dilemma enters the picture, so to speak. Last week, something that would be only slightly newsworthy (if at all) had it occurred at any other business took a turn for the more interesting, at least, when the Occupy Eureka Springs group began protesting outside the Citizen office.

They've been "occupying" around town on a regular basis for some time now, and as the novelty has worn off, so has the news coverage of their activities -- appropriately so. But this time, the protesters were protesting so-called facts that are actually lies and misrepresentations of the truth. We've already explained it, in the column titled "Please Allow Me To Introduce Ourselves" in last week's edition of the Citizen and at LovelyCitizen.com, so we won't repeat it all again here.

We challenge you, the readers, to always investigate the "news" you read and hear -- particularly when it's local "news" -- and ask yourself, "Is this the Truth? What is my proof?"

So what is the Truth here? We'll boil it down for you: No jobs have been outsourced at the Lovely County Citizen. Nothing has changed about the Citizen's intent and mission: To bring you the Truth and the best local news coverage.

We have been challenged to continue to grow and improve at accomplishing that mission, as we shall. In fact, we have just hired a new graphic designer and a new editor -- both of whom will be working here in our Eureka office -- to help us accomplish that mission. Meanwhile, we challenge you to fulfill your duty, as educated readers (and as responsible Citizens), to be discerning of what you read and hear. Seek the Truth; it always wins.