Reporting Simply

February 5, 2012 | | 31 Comments

Thomas Jefferson, a founding father, believed newspapers were a vital aspect of democracy—he even considered them potentially more important than democracy itself. He did specify, however, that every man “must be capable of reading them”. With that being said, journalists have the very difficult job of making complex news stories comprehendible for a wide audience, while simultaneously avoiding offensive stereotypes. Reporting for the Media describes this task as telling a story “providing facts in a clear and concise manner using simple language” (65). Although this may seem easy, it is actually an art form, mastered by successful journalists.

The New York Times staff is famous for their ability to convey a wide array of information in an effective, and relatively simple manner. It is important to note, however, that The New York Times’ articles are not as simplistic as other news sources’ articles, as The New York Times appeals to a “more specialized and better educated audience” (68). Still, the complex information in The New York Times is simplified for the benefit of a large audience.

Three articles, written on Sunday, February 5, 2012, display The New York Times’ ability to create efficient and simple stories. Nate Silver’s article, One Test Left for Mitt Romney: The Midwest, shows how vital the Midwest is in Mitt Romney’s campaign, without including complicated election laws. Rather, the article presents the main point by saying, “Imagine that Mr. Romney were to lose both states. That would make him zero for three in the nation’s most important swing region”. Similarly, the story conveys the potential impact the Midwest could have on the Republican primary by addressing the influence it could have on Rick Santorum’s campaign: “Imagine, moreover, that Mr. Santorum wins both Minnesota and Missouri. That could revive his campaign, especially given that he also took Iowa”. Although the mathematical calculations and possible repercussions of the primary are quite difficult to explain, Silver represents the most important aspects of the story. The longest sentence of the article is 23 words, and most of the sentences are actually much shorter.

Not only is the article simple, it is also relatively unbiased. Rather than arguing who should win, Silver argues the potential outcomes of every situation. He also presents the information from a very intellectual standpoint, based on polls and statistical odds. As we have learned in class, however, every article has some bias. This article is no exception. The article conveys the odds and impact of Mitt Romney losing before it shows what will happen if Mitt Romney wins. Considering not every reader will make it to the end of the article, the idea of Mitt Romney losing will resonate with more readers than the idea of Romney winning.

Similarly, David Kirkpatrick presents a complex international issue between the United States and Egypt in his article, 19 Americans in Egypt Face Trial in Inquiry Over Funding. In his opening paragraph, Kirkpatrick gives a brief background on the information he will talk about throughout his article. Very quickly, however, Kirkpatrick begins to explore his main idea, as “Reporters who fail to identify a central point for a story or who lose sight of that central point risk writing stories that are incoherent and incomplete” (67). Kirkpatrick presents the main point through the words of Hillary Clinton: ““We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt”. By using this quote, Kirkpatrick is able to present the impact in a simplistic way so that a majority of his audience can understand the events’ implications. Similarly, by presenting Clinton’s quote, Kirkpatrick runs little risk of showing bias.

Similarly, Alan Feuer’s article, Homeless Families, Cloaked in Normality, conveys how the life of the poor is not as obvious as it was in the 1980s. His main point is articulated in one sentence: “Unlike in the 1980s, when the crisis was defined by AIDS patients or men who slept on church steps, these days it has become more likely that a seemingly ordinary family, rushing about on public transportation with Elmo bags and video games, could be without a home.” Although it is a rather long sentence, which conflicts with an aspect of simplicity mentioned in the Reporting for the Media, it has very simple language, making it easy to follow—and much of the story is written with shorter sentences. Feuer is not one of those writers that “overwrite when seeking drama or impact” (69). Rather, he uses simple language to display the changing economic situation in America.

Most importantly, however, Feuer does a good job of avoiding stereotypical “-isms”. It is evident in the picture that the family he is describing is black, however, he never mentions it in his story—most likely because it would not add anything to the context of his article. Similarly, he does not convey poor people are lazy, as the families he is following all have jobs or are in school.


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