Excerpt from the new Amazon almost best-seller
Media Collusion: Journalism and Marketing Experts Share the Secrets of Sneaky Advertising, Targeted Persuasion, AI and Tracking, Political Deception and Coercion, and Dishonest News
When you watch a news show on TV, browse through a physical newspaper, click through a site like the Huffington Post, or bounce around YouTube for news videos linked to specific events, you’re consuming all kinds of different publications that we generically describe as “news.”
Every publication, however, has a mix of different news types. These fall into just a few different categories.
The first one is pretty simple – hard news. When there’s a fire and a reporter takes down the facts of the incident, that’s hard news. The reporter is responsible for describing the Who, What, Where, When and How of the event. If the reporter strays into more of the How and Why of the event, tracing those facts to issues outside of the specific event, then you’re getting into opinion or analysis.
Opinion is usually identified as such by the publication and lives on pages marked Opinion or Editorial. Some news shows are all opinion, and they place that filter on the news of the day. Examples include Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) and Sean Hannity (Fox News).
Analysis is similar to opinion, but it’s usually accomplished by sourcing and citing experts in a particular field, like climatology or politics. Opinion shows on TV usually bring in CIA experts to analyze worldwide events, or they bring in specific science experts to put a news analysis filter on developments in the environment, with food and whatever else is the hot topic of the day. This allows the host of the show or writer of the article to appear objective in their line of questioning. They can craft questions and answers by interviewing the analyst subject. The end result is often more opinion. This is very common these days on liberal or conservative news opinion shows. It’s painfully obvious that they’ve brought in two “experts” on a particular subject, but the experts are in total agreement on the topic, and there’s no effort to insert a third or balanced viewpoint. Ideally, you’d have the moderator/show host/writer interview two experts that have differing views and can articulate them well.
Unfortunately, biased opinion programs will cherry pick their guests to either be totally one-sided, or they’ll pit a very articulate person who shares their opinion against a poorly skilled opponent who defends the other side of the issue. Both cases are common on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and PBS Newshour. While news analysis tries to appear objective, it’s often colored by the opinions and orientation of the particular news outlet. Analysis tries to ask why in very detailed ways in order to make sense of a topic or event.
When a TV opinion program has their talking head produce a monologue (usually at the beginning of the show), this is similar to an Op/Ed article in a print publication. There’s one voice and opinion, and they craft a singular argument without using expert input. They may cite facts and expert quotes within the monologue or article, but the piece is generally guided by their own thoughts on the subject.
Baseball scores are hard news, but the coverage of the team is a little more subjective. The reason you get recaps and summaries of game performances is because the local publication has a contract or compact with the team to promote them. That’s editorially selective. My local newspaper – the Orange County Register, for example – decides that they’ll promote the Angels baseball team, and in return they get access to players and special events, the team places ads in their publication, and both companies collaborate on dozens of on-season and off-season promotions benefiting each business in a complementary way. They’re partners, essentially. The scores and stats are hard news facts, but the arrangement with the team is something altogether different. The team didn’t just buy an ad and expect a little quid pro quo. They work with the paper to develop the paper’s “product” while benefiting from the Register’s large sports fan audience.
Movie showtime schedules are hard news, but the arrangement between the publication and the theaters and movie studios is more subtly nuanced. Those theaters and studios purchase ads that run in the publication, and the publication writes reviews of those same movies. There’s supposed to be an editorial separation between the advertiser and the influence of the reviewer, but that’s not always so black and white. Some release events, like the Star Wars movie roll-outs, are so expensive and influential that editorial decisions are inevitably made to favorably review the movies, the events surrounding them, and the descriptions of all things related to the movies. Promotion also reaches fever pitch when a local team makes it deep into the playoffs or makes it to a championship.