By Sarah Mansheim
I was covering a government meeting this week, and an audience member asked the governing members an interesting question.
“How do members of the media decide what to write about?” she asked.
My reporter colleagues and I exchanged a look, and the officials all laughed a little too loudly, answering, “We have no idea. We can’t control anything they say.”
Har har har.
But it got me thinking. I bet a lot of you wonder how we choose what to print. So, here’s the answer: We make it all up!
You see, we have never gone to school, and subscribe to no governing guidelines as to what to print. Libel laws? Associated Press? Reuters? New York Times? What are those?
Instead of bringing you facts about goings on in the community, we simply wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and say, “Yass Queen! You are going to take down some chumps today!”
Reporting on government goings on is a gas. Do we attend the meetings? Eh. Maybe. They’re usually held at night, and besides, we don’t have to! We just sit down at our computers and imagine what happened, and, knowing intimately all of the members of all governing bodies, we just write what we think they would say. It works like a charm.
It’s the same with crime. I know many of our colleagues access police reports and talk to arresting officers. They attend court hearings. They call people and ask questions. Psssshhhhh. Not us. We simply log onto social media, see who everybody is talking about, and write it up lickety split! Those other journalists at places like the Charleston Gazette take lots of time to research their articles. Suckers. While other publications are busy checking sources and editing content, we’re taking smoke breaks and power naps.
Every now in then, when we’re bored and over-caffeinated, we like to play a game called, “Who’s Next?” What we do is, we take a list of local citizens, put each of their names on a piece of paper and drop it in a fedora hat (we use a fedora because we are journalists). Then we draw straws.
Whoever draws the short straw has to pick a name out of the hat. Then, that person has to write a reputation-destroying article about that person based on rumors, innuendo and straight up fiction. Sounds fun, right? Well, it’s not. It’s hard. That’s why the person with the short straw has to do it.
You know what else are awesome? Elections! What we do with those is we take that same hat, toss in all the candidates’ names, and whomever’s name we draw, we either prop them up as the Next Great Leader or we publish their criminal records on the front page. I’m telling you, it’s hilarious.
We like to attend all the candidate rallies and forums, because there is free food. If the barbecue brisket is good, we write nice things about the candidate. If the cole slaw has been left out in the sun too long, we write bad things.
Here’s what we like: an open bar.
Another thing we like to do is hang out at the courthouse. We probably spend about six or seven hours a day there, and when people complain about things to us, we put it in the paper. Do we care if it’s actually newsworthy? No!
What does newsworthy even mean? That it’s important to the community? That our readers should be aware of the goings on in their neighborhoods and how their tax dollars are being spent?
No. Newsworthy means things like “page views” and Facebook “likes.” Have you looked at our Facebook rating lately? I’d say it’s a solid 2.5 out of 5 stars. That didn’t happen by accident, kids. When you measure your success by how many cookies you can eat in one sitting and how long you can hold a plank pose in the middle of the newsroom floor, there is room for nothing but the glaring mediocrity we all hold dear.
Just kidding. We don’t hold anything dear, except our biases and disdain for everyone who reads our paper.
Some people call journalism the Fourth Estate, the arm of government that holds officials accountable. Those people are pious idiots. We don’t call ourselves anything, except sometimes, when we’re really hungry, we call ourselves a large pepperoni and pineapple pizza. And then, after a quick nap, we get back down to writing.