News Narratives

19 05 2013

Category; Media

Eric Kitson

A former UKIP Councillor

News is about narratives. You pick your starting point and take it from there. That starting point is both literal and metaphorical; the opening sentence in any decent news report is worth as much as the rest of the report, and the viewpoint of the author, or outlet, moulds facts.

It’s how Fox News and The Guardian manage to shape the same facts in such different ways.

There’s nothing intrinsically sinister about this. It’s a necessary feature of journalism. One of the most respected journalists of the Twentieth Century, Martha Gellhorn, famously said ‘I never believed in that objectivity sh*t’ (click here).

She’s not alone. Decent reporting is not possible in a vacuum. Even if you’re fairly reporting the facts as you know them, you probably don’t know all the relevant facts.

What you put in, what you leave out, where you put things, the words you use are all critical to framing the report. And framed it is; it’s an art form. So long as it’s clear, so long as the viewer or reader is aware, so long as the generally accepted professional rules of perspective are used, it can be good art and good journalism.

My own career in journalism was spent mainly in tabloid television news. It is a broadly drawn world of goodies and baddies, fear and salvation. News written in marker pen or spraycan rather than a fine-nibbed fountain pen. But even fountain pen news makes decisions on what to put in what to leave out, what to emphasise and what to downplay.

Even the most trivial story or element can tell you something about the person who wrote it or the news outlet that carries or publishes it.

Take this trivial example; a local councillor in the UK for the anti-Europe UKIP, getting into trouble for the garbage on his Facebook page – click here for that story on BBC website.

The BBC report refers to the postings as racist and anti-Muslim. But there was more to it than that; as well as being anti-Muslim, they were also anti-semitic (see here, here,  here, and here)

The BBC only reported the anti-Muslim angle. Is it an omission that plays to a narrative, or just making the story simpler and more straightforward? Why does it matter with such a trivial story?

It matters particularly in the case of the BBC; a trusted, dominant, public service news provider with a statutory duty of impartiality, where presenting stories that reflect consistent narratives pushes viewers, listeners and readers into a narrative rut where they can easily begin to frame the world around them in a distorted way.

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