THE CLASSROOM — Welcome, class, to Journalism 101, in which you will learn the basics of journalism such as how to change facts to suit your own political positions, slant stories, stick in biases without leaving fingerprints and destroy America as we know it today. First, here are a few random notes: Never write a headline that ends with a question mark. Your newspaper is supposed to know the answer, that’s why readers turn to it. Never print a letter to the editor that begins with: “Now let me get this straight.” If the writer doesn’t know how to solve the problem, get it straight before bothering the rest of us. We’re busy. Do not write headlines about missing pets with, “Dog Gone,” or run a story about unexpected reptiles with the headline, “Snakes Alive!” They were shopworn before Johannes Gutenberg was setting type.
When you told your folks you were going to major in journalism, they probably said, “But newspapers are dead.” Wrong, they are only on temporary life support. It goes this way: The first newspapers sprang up in London in the 1600s and look nothing like the papers of today, or even those of the 1700s. By the Civil War, newspapers had tiny type and no photographs, just drawings. Editors placed stories as they arrived, with the first at the top of the page, and so on. Down at the very bottom was the last story to come in: “Lincoln Shot!” Today’s papers are evolving, just as everything else is – cars, clothes and the way we get our news. Most of us, especially younger people, get their information via emails, on-lines, iPads, hashtags and tom-toms, but not newspapers.
Two points here. The newspaper industry is getting into these news media. And it’s working. Today The New York Times has more readers than it has ever had, and more than half of these readers are not holding papers. Indeed, newspapers may have to start calling themselves a “newsbox: or “newscreen.” On the other hand, you still “dial” a phone number and “roll down” your car window. The other point is that, while you may think you don’t read newspapers, you’re right. They are being read to you. Notice how often you read your local newspaper and then see that same story on the local evening TV news. Same thing for national TV newscasts. The line about “NBC has learned” is correct. They learned it from reading that morning’s Washington Post. I once heard a reporter say, “I’d feel a lot better about what they say and write if I ever covered a speech, convention or rally and saw a reporter from the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report or Brightbart. There aren’t any.” The worst in parasite journalism are the radio, TV and pundit panels whose main, if not only, feedstock are the “mainstream media” as they like to despairingly put it. Talk about biting the hand. Donald Trump, like a good vaudevillian, tried out different lines in various speeches. He removed lines that fell flat: (“I am a Humble man. And Exxon and Shell and the Koch Brothers.”) He kept the zingers: The Wall and insults to the press. Now he works them into every speech. His followers love it.
I have been a journalist for a long time. Actually, when I got my first scoop I rushed into the city room yelling, “Stop the chisels!” But never before have I witnessed the press so hated. Indeed, a story from the Huffington Post repeated (remember that earlier line about parasite journalism) cited a Gallup poll that showed people don’t have much confidence in newspaper and TV reporters when it comes to being honest and ethical. In a survey taken of more than 1,000 adults in the U.S., only 20 percent rated TV reporters “high” or “very high” for honesty and ethical standards, putting it sixth from the bottom of Gallup’s list of professions. Only 21 percent of respondents rated newspaper reporters positively for honesty. Another poll said newspaper reporters ranked the worst of the worst jobs in Career Cast’s 2016. Broadcaster was rated the fourth-worst job, finishing behind disc jockey, military personnel and pest control worker, according to the report.
Another point to learn: You will be hated. Total strangers will walk up to you and insult your profession, employer, colleagues and your mother. Learn how to say, “Sorry. Did I spell your name wrong in the story about the brothel bust?” Or: “After reading page one, do your lips get tired?” Students, you won’t find, or need, such training in the Architecture School, Pharmacist College or the Department of Ceramic Engineering.
All of this is not new. Thomas Jefferson wrote. “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” However, Tom also wrote: “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Don’t complain. You know what you are getting into. If you don’t like it, there is still time to go over to the Department of Ceramic Engineering. No one ever writes hate letters to pottery makers.
A final point: You ink-stained wretches and TV good-hairs should know this pursuit can be dangerous. Before the Normandy invasion on the sixth of June, 1944, D-Day, 58 war correspondents were selected to accompany Allied troops ashore in the first wave. Before leaving, they were all ordered to write their own obituaries. Some were published. Nothing’s changed. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that in 2016 at least 48 journalists were killed worldwide doing their jobs (Journalists Without Borders puts the deaths at 74.) while 28 deaths are still being investigated. Another 268 were jailed. Gives a whole new; meaning to the term “deadlines.” OK, students, get out there and lie.
Ashby slants at email@example.com