Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Read (and read well) before you share

Friday, July 26, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

By Caleb Daniel

The grain of salt

It’s almost inherent in human nature that at some point in a conversation, everyone will try to relate the subject matter at hand back to his or her own life or experience in some way.

And that’s fine — we all want to feel like we’ve contributed, and there’s no deeper knowledge pool for most people than their own lives.

All that to say, I’m never surprised that when I tell people I’m in journalism, they usually start talking about their experience with English classes in school, thinking that’s close enough to the same idea.

While there are some common skills between creative or research writing and journalistic writing, there are a lot more differences than one might think.

The root of many of these differences is the intended audience. When writing an English assignment at grade school or university, usually your only audience is someone who is required to read it.

Conversely, we write news articles for an audience that can choose to ignore or stop reading the content at any time.

Having a captive audience means research writers can go on as long as they want until every last facet of what they want to communicate is fully covered.

Journalists can’t afford to do that. Through four years of classes at Louisiana Tech, I was told the average newspaper reader operates at a third-grade reading level. And there’s an endless amount of data one can find online to support the idea that adult attention spans are shrinking every year.

Though I no longer write anything like I did in my English classes, I still often struggle to keep articles concise enough to be finished by the average reader.

Even when I’ve already blown the conventional word count out of the water, there are times when the issue at hand is so complex that I simply have to submit a story that I know doesn’t explain everything as much as it should.

I don’t tell you this to make excuses. I think consumers of news need to realize this important point: I write a good deal longer than the average reporter, and I still quite often can’t get to the full story.

In the world of deadlines, space constraints, bias, and the endless rat race to be the first on the web, news consumption today should be more careful and intentional than ever.

Rarely will one source have the whole story. Readers should be checking facts, comparing outlets, examining biases and asking questions before they assume they have a clear grasp on a situation.

Instead, I see the opposite happening in today’s culture of instant information. I see people form judgments based solely on a couple lines of news they read on social media.

Even worse than not checking alternate sources, I often see people who haven’t even read the articles they’re sharing on Facebook. They see a headline that appears to confirm their preconceived ideas, and they share it because it makes them look right, all the while having no idea what the content they’ve shared on a public forum actually contains.

Not only is this practice irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous. If you haven’t fully examined any content you associate yourself with online, you have no idea what kind of inaccuracies or intentional deception you might be spreading.

I know this isn’t easy when there’s so much to do and so much to see in a given day. I don’t always vet my news intake like I should, either.

But unlike all those lengthy research papers in school, news might actually matter to your life. So treat it with care.

Caleb Daniel is the Ruston Daily Leader’s Digital News Editor. Caleb is a Louisiana Tech University graduate who covers the Lincoln Parish Police Jury and schools for the Ruston Leader.