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Journalism vs. Alternative Facts

January 24, 2017

Author, journalist, and broadcaster Peter Laufer published his book Slow News with the Press in 2014. Laufer provides readers with an examination of modern-day news consumption and creation. Considering the world we live in today--instant news, fast food, immediate gratification--it is important to take a step back to survey the information being presented to us. What is the validity of any piece of news? How do we determine what is “fake news?” What about accuracy? What is the true value of this constant stream of news? Today we are sharing with you an excerpt from Laufer’s book, Slow News. The excerpt, “Rule 9: Avoid Echo Chamber Reporting”, analyzes the meaning of journalism and the various bits of information introduced to us in our everyday lives attempting to pass as verifiable news.


"Rule 9: Avoid Echo Chamber Reporting"

By Peter Laufer


 All journalism is investigative. If what is purported to be a news report is not investigative, it is merely clerical work.

 The New Republic’s critic Stanley Kauffmann famously said about Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, “This isn’t writing, it’s research.” He was wrong, of course, but it was a witty paraphrase of a famous claim against the work of Jack Kerouac by Capote: “This isn’t writing, it’s typing.” These exchanges of insults make me think about stories presented as news that aren’t.

 Remember in this era of Facebook and Twitter that Facebook updates and tweets from newsmakers are not news. They may be information, but that’s not news. News, since we were cavemen drawing on our cave walls, requires an intermediary: the journalist. If the caveman who whacked the mammoth came home and scrawled his own experience on his cave wall, that was autobiography. If another caveman was along on the hunt, watched the kill, came home, and recorded what he saw on the wall, that was journalism. Sometimes the newsmaker and the journalist can be one and the same, but that requires both a rare news event and rare reporting talent. 

 As for non-news, the worst offenders are news organizations that print or broadcast verbatim announcements from public relations agencies. There is nothing wrong with accepting material from PR functionaries as background for stories. But to stuff such propaganda as is into the news pages or a newscast is scandalous, the scandal made more egregious only by those print and broadcast businesses who completely prostitute themselves and sell the opportunity for self-promoters to appear as if they and their causes (usually commercial) were legitimate news.

 Almost as bad are the lazy reporters and editors who accept information without checking it and without advancing the story by reporting further developments. Crime statistics from the police are examples. Earnings reports from a company are others. An account of a battle by the military of one side of the conflict is still another example.

 That’s not journalism, that’s stenography—without at least verification, it’s just stenography. All news reporting should be investigative reporting. The latter term is redundant.

 There is a difference between information dumping and knowledge building. In today’s heavily mediated world we’re awash with information. We can Google anything and find factoids. We’re bombarded with information via the Internet and our mobile phones and other so-called New Media even while the relics of Old Media continue to thrive: books, for just one example.

 The Slow News rule is to seek information that builds knowledge. Thorough reporting about important world news developments or about news that interests us or about news that is particularly crucial to our lives builds knowledge, makes us smarter, better citizens, and makes us much more fun to hang out with.

 Beware of the Big Story Syndrome. When mobs of reporters flock to one story the result is needless repetition. Think about the hordes of writers and photographers waiting for the Chilean miners to come out of the bowels of the earth alive and well in October 2010. It was a thrilling positive news story, of course, full of human pathos and redemption. But think also of all the news stories that were going unreported or underreported worldwide all those days the miners were underground because of the resources that were shipped to Chile.

 When the world’s attention is riveted on one Big Story, it’s a good time to troll obscure news outlets to find intriguing news pushed from the front pages by the Big Story.

 Skillful media manipulators know how to take advantage of distraction. That’s why government and businesses tend to announce bad news when few are paying attention. Saturday afternoon is a good choice for obscurity. The weekday news reading/watching/listening routine is disrupted by the leisure of the weekend. The audience is at the beach or at the theater or sleeping late. The bad news slips with ease quickly into the ether, reported but often undigested. In 2011, for example, on the afternoon of Saturday, August 13 (which in Italy is more of a Saturday than any other because it is smack in the middle of the summer holiday period), the appointments of presidents and commissioners of the Italian public research agencies were announced on the Ministry of Education’s website. The editor of the Italian section of Scientific American, Marco Cattaneo, called this choice for a date “carboneria,” that is, “it looks like the news was meant to be kept hidden.”

 The Big Story Syndrome can distract the public just as thoroughly as a premeditated maneuver to hide bad news on the weekend. Seeks news that teaches something new.


The Slow News rule: All journalism worth your while should be investigative journalism, and sometimes it must be actively sought.





Laufer, Peter. Slow News. Corvallis: Oregon State UP, 2014. Print. A Manifesto for the                                     Critical News Consumer.

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