Saturday, November 28, 2015

The magic of names

One of the things we'll talk about in the seminar this week (unless you guys go off on a Disney political-economy tangent again) is how and whether cues function differently in the online environment than in other mediated environments -- specifically, how the bits of information that don't look like information help the hardworking brain make sense of the bits that do look like information. Thus, we might find it useful to compare this morning's Fair 'n' Balanced homepage (above) with one from -- oh, something at random from July 2015, for example.

If we were feeling charitable, we could put the difference between "chaos" and "terror" down to the novice editor's love for alliteration,* but we're still left with those two passive "gunman identified" clauses: Given that we're not dealing with the sort of public figure whose given names would be especially relevant to the coffee-deprived reader-at-large,** what do you think Fox could be doing by burning an extra line on "as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez"?

I know! Let's look at some other important online websites and see how they handled that July story! The Drudge Report, for example:
 If you want to zoom in, you can find "Standoff ends with gunman at Planned Parenthood ..." at lower left in the Drudge screengrab below.
Journalistic patience is a rare and pleasant thing. Even if the best you can do is wait for the official version from the cops, it's always better to admit you have no idea why the perp did it than to guess at what ailed him (or her). And as we pass judgment on who did more effective cueing, we can also consider the differences between working on the scene we have and rewriting the wires. News routines have their well-documented failings, but at some point we should acknowledge that they are categorically different from propaganda routines.

* Though there's a good content analysis to be had in looking at the conditions under which Fox feels licensed to say "TERROR!!!!!" without an official saying it first
** It's not like the hed said "Shining figure in sky identified as Carl Yastrzemski," I mean.

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