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Paper Chase

Image by GiantsFanaticI’ve become more and more disappointed with news media over recent years. I know I’m not alone in this, but a few days ago I asked myself why – what did I really want from the media? I mean it’s very easy to criticise, but could I articulate what the problem is, or – better still – could I offer any solutions. The answer is maybe.

I analysed the morphology of a popular Australian newspaper, which revealed two interesting things. The first was a list of basic newspaper content; the second was a very interesting analysis of the anatomy of the newspaper. Let me explain. 

I have identified the following types of newspaper content:

  • Reporting of events
  • Speculation
  • Promotional editorial
  • Advertising
  • Analysis
  • Opinion
  • Gossip
  • Political lobbying/campaigning

There is probably a place for all these components, but I fear that some are masquerading as others and that the balance is often wrong.

When I deconstructed the newspaper, I observed a surprising phenomenon. The front few pages included news reporting, but this provided very limited detail and included rather a lot of speculation, often bordering on gossip or lobbying. The back pages reported sport results, and a significant amount of analysis of these results, but once again much of the space was concerned with speculation and rumour. We would not accept this level of shallow reporting or lobbying in the weather section, or the index or the stock market report, so I wonder when we started to accept it in other news sections.

Of course there was also advertising in the paper, as well as content clearly designed for amusement or entertainment (comics, quizzes, Sudoku, crosswords, etc), but the more I looked, the more it seemed that the most factual information and reporting was in the physical centre of the paper and that in general, the further you moved from the centre pages towards to front and back pages, the more opinion, speculation and gossip there was.

There was an editorial section, but this seemed very small compared the amount of space that seemed to be dedicated to editorial opinion or campaigning. If supporting or undermining a political policy is so important to the editorial or owners of the newspaper, they should feel free to express in this the paper, but surely this should be clearly identified when and where it is included. It seems to me that there was far too much paper space that appeared to be news reporting, but which was clearing taking either an adversarial or advocational position.

The middle few pages by comparison included the racing guide (almost entirely simple clear facts), the classified section (likewise factually based, with clear statements of intent) and the births, deaths and marriages section (a little celebratory at times, but still primarily about the reporting of facts). 

Perhaps editors and journalists could learn something from the sections of their newspapers that are provided by their readers.

Image by MarcelGermainI do see a role for analysis and speculation and even opinion, I just think it all needs to be handles the right way and there is a need to get the balance “right”. So here’s my list of newspaper content in my preference order, with some very quick notes.

  • Reporting (facts and events)
  • Analysis (rational, educated and fair)
  • Speculation (logical and balanced)
  • Advertising (as necessary, clearly identified)
  • Opinion (researched, referenced, open-minded)
  • Gossip (as entertainment only)
  • Political lobbying/campaigning (in clearly marked editorial only)

Editors, you can have that one gratis, but please credit my contribution and mark it clearly as opinion.

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