Hannah Scribbles

How (Not) to Write the News

In News & Media on January 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Step One: get assigned a lead to follow. Preferably it should be something exciting and engaging – despite the basic importance of city councils, zoning boards or town hall meetings, these topics are boring and nobody will read them anyway. So don’t bother with your assigned topic of parking tickets. Go for the gold! The people want to hear about how the parking authority is (allegedly, according to conspiracy theorists) embezzling meter funds.

Step Two: research the lead. This step begins easily because Wikipedia is a handy tool for locating background information you might otherwise actually have to ask someone for. However, for local stories that aren’t easily accessible online, you’ll need to make some phone calls, visit archives and actually do your job. Bummer for you, but once you locate a stack of substandard information that you can’t decipher and don’t bother to review it’s on to step three.

Step Three: do some interviews. At this point you should have shaped your story based around what you want it to sound like. Now, conduct your interviews with questions that tie into this rational thinking rather than wasting your precious time with the mayor on what you were originally assigned to cover: parking tickets. Ask him instead how his campaigns are funded and whether he thinks emergency snow routes are worth raising the cost of speeding tickets. Yes, the questions aren’t even related to each other or your assignment, but you’re really just looking for a “money quote” to take slightly out of context.

Step Four: write a report on the parking authority, and make sure to slide in mention of certain embezzling accusations. However, assure the news consumer that there is no grounds for these accusations, and forget that you created the controversy by casually mentioning it in your article, which completely ignored the issue at hand: parking tickets. Stress that you are being impartial but manipulate the situation until people have forgotten what the story was actually about (hint: you hate getting them when you only ran inside for five minutes without paying because you had no silver change snuggled anywhere in the penny-catching carcass of a car you drive).

Step Five: Mission accomplished! You have changed a boring ol’ story about parking tickets into a media frenzy over… wait for it… the controversy over whether illegal aliens are posing as the parking authority to embezzle the city’s meter money.

And what did the mayor have to say about all this? “Money doesn’t grow on trees, and you need to be consistent to fund a political campaign.” If you’ve done your job properly, you will have ignored that he was referencing the junior high school bake sale his daughter organized for the student government.

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