A couple of colleagues and I got into an interesting Facebook conversation about the news coverage over the weekend surrounding the healthcare debate and vote.
One of my former editors wrote that the coverage (at least the TV coverage, but really, most coverage) largely ignored the 2,000 or so healthcare professionals who came out to D.C. in support of the healthcare bill, and instead focused on the ‘regular’ people who came out to D.C. to protest against it.
Another colleague, an editor as well, took me to task for saying that the tens of thousands who came out to march for immigration reform were a lost story, because their ill-timed rally on Sunday was just as the dramatic healthcare bill debate was reaching its crescendo and climax. My colleague wrote, “I wouldn’t call an event covered in… [NPR’s] Morning Edition and in The New York Times ‘lost’.”
True. But I would argue that coverage in two outlets, albeit major ones, doesn’t constitute a throughly covered story, when it is an event of that magnitude and of that importance to the national conversation.
Both of my colleagues’ comments pointed to a bigger problem. As a young journalism student, I remember my mentors often telling me, don’t tell the story you want to tell despite the facts. They would joke, “are the facts getting in the way of your story?”
I am concerned that too often our major news outlets suffer from this problem. There is this collective presumption of what the story is, and facts that may be in the periphery or counter to that, are sometimes ignored. The healthcare professionals marching in favor of the healthcare reform bill did not fit the presumed storyline: ‘Democrats facing popular voter backlash plunge ahead toward healthcare reform.’
And when it came to the immigration rally, it had a similar problem. It didn’t fit with the overarching narrative of that day. The drama of Sunday was about the battle playing out in D.C. and in the halls of Congress. No other major story could fit into that storyline or run in parallel.
Think about it, how often have you gone through a day of consuming news and then wondered to yourself – did anything ELSE happen today, or was that one big story the only thing?
I, for one, do find it fascinating how easily and uniformly news organizations fall into the presumption trap. Perhaps we all need a journalism 101 refresher course every decade or so.