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Opinion: 4 things to know about the media

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Have you ever wondered about how the media works, or how stories are picked and framed? Here are some answers

This week Dove was blasted online for featuring a Nigerian woman ‘turning into’ a white woman in an ad campaign.

I came across the story on my Facebook feed, as SBS had covered it in an article.

The article stated that Dove had apologised for the ad, and proceeded to detail several of the criticisms that had been voiced over social media.

However it was only after reading the comments section that the true context of the story emerged—the actual ad showed a series of women from different ethnicities turning into one another, from black to white to Asian and so forth.

The SBS article had not mentioned this at all and had cut the ad to show only the first part as a static image—and so framed Dove in a particularly bad light.

After the story spread across several news channels, the dark-skinned woman in the ad even had to write an article in The Guardian pointing out that she “is not a victim” and that the ad was not racist.

At first, it made me angry that the article had not provided appropriate context.

As a reporter myself, I thought: what really happens when the media makes errors like this, including errors of omission?

Our editorial team receives criticisms regularly about what we choose to write about and the way we write it.

Here are some truths and misconceptions about journalists.

1. Journalists are human and make mistakes

It seems obvious but it’s worth saying: despite all efforts, mistakes happen. It’s human nature.

In general journalists are trained to write balanced articles and refer to sources from both sides.

Unfortunately as with any other profession – or any facet of life – reporters make mistakes.

Sometimes an article might be framed a certain way and it’s because the author has not properly checked their biases.

In addition, due to shrinking media budgets, the sub-editor teams that would have been more likely to pick up on errors no longer exist in newsrooms.

Being in the public eye, errors open reporters up to criticism. Constructive criticism is always beneficial, but as with any social interaction, it’s important to remember to be fair and kind.

This first point leads to the second, which is that…

2. Journalists work to strict deadlines

In the digital age, reporters are expected to write several stories a day to keep up with demand and the news cycle. They are under pressure to research, collect quotes, images, get numbers and names right, write articles and all at the same time, help to maintain websites, forums and social media pages.

Just as in the pharmacy, if a pharmacist is expected to dispense a large amount of prescriptions per day, mistakes are more likely to occur.

And while a mistake in an article may not necessarily kill a person in the same way an incorrectly dispensed medication can, the resulting damage can be widespread and longlasting.

3. Journalists are part of a team

Often when a divisive story is published, readers are quick to attack the person who wrote it. There might be an assumption that the journalist wrote the story because they have a personal interest or opinion on the matter.

However before a story goes up on a website or in print, chances are at least one other person in the editorial team has looked at and vetted the story. The journalist may have even been specifically asked to write the story by their editor, boss or colleague.

4. Most of the time, journalists don’t cover a story based on personal opinion

Don’t shoot the messenger!

Stories are chosen based on reader interest and currency. Basically, if it’s timely, if people are talking about it or will talk about it (and in our context, if it’s pharmacy-related), we will write about it.

Sometimes this leads to criticism, with individuals or groups claiming the publication is running a campaign for – or vendetta against – some cause or another.

In most cases this couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

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