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Which context is needed in news?


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September 17, 2005

Which context is needed in news?

Stephen Baker

Jay Rosen debates the question of news context on Rhetorica. He writes:

There is no such thing as Context with a capital C. Which context to add is a debatable decision that cannot be governed by any existing rule set in journalism.

He goes on to say that journalists wishing to provide context to the Katrina story could cover everything from levee funding to questions of race and class in New Orleans.

But I think he makes too much of it. Here's a simple test for necessary context: Is the story misleading without it? For example, if you point out that Company B's stock has risen 5% in the last year, but neglect to mention that it's still 80% under its 2003 peak, the reader's getting a false picture. If you write that a Democrat on the judiciary committee is supporting one of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, you should also mention that eight or nine others are opposed or uncommitted.

Simple stuff. The point is that news writers are usually covering only a sliver of history. They often can provide the necessary context with a thoughtful sentence or two--and too often they (we) forget to.

12:50 PM

mainstream media

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I couldn't agree more.

News reporters do just cover a sliver of the story.

That is why you should either:

1) stop watching the news

2) get your news from multiple sources

by multiple sources I do not mean the difference between AMC News and CNN.

I mean American news versus the BBC versus Al Jazeera

Posted by: DrDel at September 17, 2005 11:24 PM

This is why I read The Week religiously - my wife and fight over it on the weekends. It boils down all of the top news events of the week and gives you quick snippets of how the left and right leaning journalist covered the story. Not only that, it gives you the best columns from Europe and International - providing a well rounded yet brief overview of the news coverage. It gives me just enough info to understand the story and opposing positions, and if I'm interested I then go do my own fact finding.

Posted by: James Clark at September 19, 2005 01:05 AM


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