Moving on with INKAS… Something perhaps pertinent to our times, NEWS FEATURE & NEWS EDITORIAL.
We hear a lot today about “fake news”. While historically there have been plenty of news articles containing errors or even purposefully misdirecting information, the abundance of disinformation and accusations that accurately written objective articles are the phony ones is a relatively recent phenomenon.
It was in 2014 that Craig Silverman coined the term “fake news” when studying and blogging about misinformation as it appears online. As his study dug deeper and deeper into the Internet, he discovered web sites that looked authentic and wrote articles in the style of news features, but their content was totally false. Many of these purported to be based in the US but in fact were the products of foreign actors with an interest in interfering in the lives of Americans by influencing our beliefs about the world. At worst, they led people to believe things that completely untrue; at the least, they confused us.
In addition to publishing incorrect information for us to read and accept as fact, these sites muddy the waters in a more insidious fashion. Once sites are exposed as “fake news” as Silverman dubbed it, their existence calls into question any/all news media and their sources. Without the savvy necessary to suss out what is fake and what is not, people tend to accept stories that align with their own beliefs and biases.
People who do not trust the government are ready to believe the worst about it; false stories about government wrongdoing simply serve to reinforce what they suspect and strengthen their resolve to hold that position.
Critical thinking skills allow us to tell fact from fiction, truth from lie. These skills–learned when we are of school age–are essential to living a responsible life and essential to protecting our democracy and our way of living.
So what can a writer do?
When I created INKAS for my Writing Club kids, the situation was much different. Occurrences of fake news were far fewer and far less likely to have effects the level of today’s turmoil.
The characteristics of News Features are simple: they report on events or situations that are of current interest to the general population. Things that are happening that you want to read about.
News Features are factual and objective; there is no place for an opinion in a News Feature, at least not the opinion of the writer. Reporting must often include quotes from the people written about. However, that is part of the story, and the opinions should be clearly attributed to the people who hold them.
Finally, there is a structure used in writing News Features. You provide the most important information first, then support it with details and more facts. This style of structure is referred to as the inverted pyramid.
News Features are generally written by reporters. In contrast,News Editorials may be written by actual editors or sometimes other news writers or publishers. Pieces written by members of the reading public are published under the category Op Ed or Letters to the Editor. Some publications will print a guest editorial written by an expert or a person prominently in the news.
News Editorials are specifically written to express the writer’s opinion. In this case, the reader knows from the beginning that it is opinion, and not necessarily fact. However, well-written editorials are often supported by details and factual references. These pieces are commentary on current events and are usually written to try and persuade others to agree with the writer’s point of view.
News Editorials will often deal with politics, local events, global issues–such as climate change or how a disaster has been handled or how societies change. Their scope may be anything from global to local. Their intent may be heartfelt, or calculated.
Challenge yourself to read some news articles carefully. Do this with articles you expect will be features and ones you expect to be editorials.
Now for a News Feature, ask yourself:
- Has the writer chosen the right information to put first?
- Is their opening information clearly explained with supporting facts and details?
- Do their itemized facts check out with other sources?
- Is there an opinion hidden in the piece, maybe by how words are ordered or what words are used?
For a News Editorial, ask:
- Was this article either presented or identified as a News Editorial?
- Is there a clear explanation of the writer’s opinion?
- Is it clear when the writer is offering opinion versus any facts they may use to support their ideas?
- Do you feel the writer is trying to persuade you to join them in their beliefs?
- If you are feeling persuaded, is it because of facts you can identify in the piece or is it an emotional response to the feelings and beliefs contained in the piece?
Congratulate yourself! You have just applied critical thinking to the news articles you read. I hope you found that enlightening. If you think anything you read in those articles was questionable, I hope you will try to check the facts with other sources and think about what you learn.
… and the next step is to try your own hand at this type of writing!