Journalism has changed a lot since I took courses in Texas for a minor in the subject at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls and Baylor University in Waco, serving as editor of The Wichitan at the former, and reporting on religious and political activities for The Baylor Lariat at the latter. Broadcast journalism was a way-down-the-list elective, and social media hadn’t even popped into anyone’s mind yet. However, the principles of truth-seeking and truth-verifying, also known as fact-checking have not changed much. Whether you’re a reporter in the field chasing a story, an anchor on TV reporting it, or a senior citizen in your La-Z-Boy trying to make sense of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, deciding whether to hit the Share button, the differences between fact and fiction are still the same, and so are the differences between clear, accurate news stories and those that are garbled misrepresentations.
There are surely philosophical nuances in the consideration of CAPITAL–T–TRUTH, but most of us should be able to get past philosophy to establish some common-sense day-to-day agreements that make getting through an average lifetime more do-able. It may be true in a philosophical or even neurological sense that what YOUR brain perceives when you say red is something very different from what MY brain perceives, but we can look at an object and agree that it is red as opposed to not–red. No news story is perfect, and in the rush to make things known, especially things that REALLY need to be known, like an approaching hurricane, the rules are sometimes bent, but a sensible news reader should have low tolerance for bent rules.
So, what makes a news report credible? In Journalism 101, we learned about the 5 W’s (WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? WHY?) and 1 H (HOW?). A credible report may or may not be true, but a credible report will be verifiable because it contains the following elements:
- WHEN? Does the report contain the complete date and time when the events happened, as well as when the report was written, and when it was published
- WHERE? Are locations described completely, accurately, and appropriately for the news medium? A report for a hometown paper or station might need only a street address. Nowadays, when just about everything goes instantly global, city, state (or equivalent like parish or province), country, and concise but detailed location notes are important elements of credibility.
- WHO? Are the names, ages, origins, role in the events, and other helpful identifiers of all participants and informants stated as completely, accurately, and objectively as possible? (Hank Oglesby, 56, of Spokane, Washington/ chief of police/ emergency responder/ the officer who answered the call/ the victim/ a bystander/ the victim’s mother/ a neighbor/ the alleged perpetrator/ Sam Smith, 37, who is awaiting trial on $2,000,000 bail for drug trafficking charges in Bolivar, Missouri–not just Sam Smith, a known drug offender) Do the sources quoted or cited appear to be the best the reporter could find? An emergency responder at the scene is more likely to have accurate information than a wild-eyed neighbor who saw it all from an upstairs window (although the wild-eyed neighbor will probably be more entertaining on TV or YouTube). An intervening police officer is a more credible source than a bystander. Reporters have to work with what they have; they should be transparently but tactfully skeptical, making it clear that although this is what the source says, it may or may not be what the reporter believes to be true. A good reader will share the reporter’s healthy and informed skepticism about news sources.
- WHAT? WHY? HOW? Does the reporter use direct quotations or accurate citations, naming and identifying the source of the information (see #3)? More often than not, the reporter arrives on the scene after events happen. Accurate quotations and well-identified sources lend credibility to the report, protect the reporter from accusations of publishing false information, and free him or her to report what is known at the time while being honest about where the information came from.
- HEADLINE: Does the headline accurately reflect the contents of the report
- PHOTOGRAPHS: Are photographs identifiable, and are their subjects, locations, and time frames identified in captions?
Ask yourself, “Who wants me to read this story? Why do they want me to read it?” Clickbaiting and fearmongering (“…spreading frightening and exaggerated rumors of an impending danger or…purposely and needlessly arousing public fear about an issue.”~ Wikipedia) are common reasons for attracting your eyes to a particular story. Here is some more information about clickbait.
In the days of hometown newspapers and international wire services, with three or four local TV channels and radio stations linked to three or four national broadcasting services, it was easier to discern the publisher’s or broadcaster’s motive which, typically, was to serve the community to the best of their ability and understanding, with the best information they could muster, while making good money selling advertising space to local and national merchants. It wasn’t paradise, the reporting was never perfect, the advertisers were not in it to serve up honesty, but there was a lot more of ethics and responsibility, and a lot less of chaotic corrupted self-interest.
It’s up to you and me to think like good reporters. It’s scary to be in the driver’s seat. We would all do well to review our “driver’s ed.”
(This was written in response to deficient and deceptive reporting about recent events (April, 2018) in Cancun, Mexico, where I have lived happily and peacefully for almost a year.)
NOTE: All the examples are totally made-up. If there is a Hank Oglesby, 56, from Spokane, or a 37-year-old drug trafficker in Bolivar named Sam Smith, I apologize. My choices of name, age, and origin were random, and I have no idea what part of my subconscious they came from. PS: (about the magazine cover at left) I am not even dealing with, “Does something just seem not quite right about the subject of the story?” or, “Do the author and publication have a reputation for reliability and seriousness?”
Note: We don’t talk about cultural assumptions. We just know things, or think we do. No one ever had to sit me down and tell me that some people’s lives didn’t have as much value as my own. I just knew.
As I wrote the draft, I used the N- word because that was the word embedded in my childhood thoughts. In rewriting, I find that the politically correct but nevertheless alienating them is even more chilling than that old raw contemptuous word. Woven into those childhood thoughts are some amazingly appalling words and phrases that I barely associated with race, if at all. They were just words. Or not. People would say, “That’s mighty white of you,” in response to a favor. I was fully grown up when it dawned on me that it had anything at all to do with race. It was just a saying. White was synonymous with good, wasn’t it?
There were Nigger Chasers, bottle rockets that careened around a space at knee-level, scaring the socks off anyone, regardless of skin hue, who happened to be in its path. At Christmas we found NiggerToes, a colloquial term for Brazil nuts, in our stockings. It was no Tiger that we caught by the toe and if he hollered made him pay fifty dollars every day when we chanted “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.” We loved stories of Little Black Sambo and his stacks of pancakes, Topsy with her “wooly hair braided into little tails which stuck out in every direction,” and the tales of kind old Uncle Remus. My family didn’t hate them. I didn’t know anyone who hated them. At Vacation Bible School we would sing:
Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/ Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in His sight
We mostly believed it too. We watched slides of white missionaries among half-naked Africans and dug tearfully into coin purses to help those poor Africans find Jesus and get some clothes. We trekked across town to teach children in the Projects about Jesus. Warsh, whose real name was George Washington Carver Scott, made us laugh with his antics. Natalie, whose braids were so tight they made her big brown eyes look Chinese, used to cuddle on my lap and tell me I was so pretty as she reached up to stroke my silky brown hair
We didn’t hate them. Sam Cook’s “Darling, You Send Me” was my favorite song in high school. I didn’t even think about Sam’s blackness any more than I contemplated Elvis’s whiteness. Sam, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole crooned in the background as I fell in and out of high-school love. I wept with Mama as we watched An Imitation of Life about Susan Kohner in the role of a light-skinned Negro who passed herself off as white at school and was mean to Juanita Moore, who played Susan’s dark-skinned Mammy and Lana Turner’s maid and best friend in the movie.
We didn’t hate them, and we didn’t mean any harm when we laughed at funny dumb things they said, or that we were told they said. When they were scared, their big eyes were funny, and the way they talked was a hoot. Amos ‘n’ Andy and Jack Benny’s sidekick, Rochester made us laugh until our bellies ached. We smiled affectionately at Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen in Gone With the Wind.
We didn’t hate them. We liked their music and their style. In elementary school, every year we would paint our little white faces with burnt cork and sing Negro songs in the annual Minstrel Show. We sang “Swanee” along with Asa Yoelsen, son of a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant rabbi and cantor. Asa, whose stage name was Al Jolson, wore white gloves and a tuxedo, painted his face black and crooned about how he longed to back with his Mammy among the folks in D-I-X-I-E. In the 1930’s he was called “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.”
We didn’t hate them, but we did feel mighty sorry for them. I was thankful to the Lord that I had been born white in America, and I wondered how He, in His infinite wisdom, had deemed that Warsh and Natalie would be dark and destined to live on that side of town, while I would be white and allowed to live wherever I could afford. I wondered why those little children in the missionary’s slides had been born in Africa and had to run around half-naked, while I was born in America and had plenty of clothes and shoes.
We most certainly didn’t hate them.
Afterword: The racism of people who came of age before 1964 is much deeper and darker than you who have been born since can imagine. We didn’t hate dark people. We felt sorry for them, which, though kinder in intention, is far more destructive than hate. Perhaps one of the ugliest phrases ever uttered among us “kind and Christian” Southern “whites” was this: “…but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”
Nota: Hay cosas de que nunca hablamos. Sencillamente las sabemos, o así creemos. Nadie tuvo que sentarme para decirme que las vidas de algunas personas valían menos que la mía. Lo sabía sin que me lo dijeran.
En el borrador, usaba la palabra Nigger, porque es la palabra enterrada en los recuerdos de mi niñez. En revisión, veo que la palabra ellos, aunque sea políticamente correcta, es aún más escalofriante que aquella antigua palabra despectiva. Entretejidos en los pensamientos infantiles, encuentro algunas palabras y frases asombrosamente terribles, palabras que yo casi no asociaba con el racismo. Eran simplemente palabras. O no. La gente solía decir, “Eso era muy de blancos,” cuando alguien les hacía un favor. Yo era muy adulta cuando me di cuenta que tal frase tenia algo que ver con la raza. Era un dicho nada mas. Acaso el color blanco no es el color de todo lo bueno? Había Nigger Chasers (Perseguidores de negros), cohetes que se lanzaban al nivel de las rodillas, dándole un buen susto a cualquiera de cualquier tono de piel, que se encontraba en su trayectoria. En Navidad, en las tradicionales medias, encontrábamos Nigger Toes (Dedos de negro), palabra coloquial para las nueces de Brasil. No era un Tigre que agarrábamos por el dedo y si gritaba lo hacíamos pagar cincuenta dólares cada día al cantar, “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe,” la versión inglesa de “Tin marin.”
Nos deleitábamos con historietas del pequeño Negro Sambo y sus montones de hot cakes, Topsy con su “pelo lanudo hecho en pequeñas trenzas que se salían por todos lados,” y los cvuentos del bondadoso Tío Remus.
Mi familia no los odiaba. No conocía a nadie que los odiaba.En la Escuela Bíblica de Vacaciones, cantábamos,
Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/ Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in His sight (Cristo ama a los niños/Todos los ninos del mundo/Rojos y amarillos, negros y blancos/Son preciosos a sus ojos)
Y mas o menos lo creíamos. Veíamos películas de misioneros blancos entre africanos casi desnudos, y con lagrimas en los ojos, buscábamos cambio en los monederos para ayudar a predicar Jesus a aquellos niños y comprarles algo de ropa. Cruzábamos medio pueblo para ensenar Jesus a los niños de la Vivienda Popular. Warsh, cuyo nombre completo era George Washington Carver Scott, nos hizo reír con sus chistes. Natalie, cuyas trenzas apretaban tanto que parecía mas bien chinita, se acurrucaba en mi regazo y me decía que yo era muy bonita mientras acariciaba mi pelo castaño sedoso.
No los odiábamos. La canción “Darling, You Send Me” de Sam Cooke era mi favorita en la prepa. Ni siquiera pensaba en lo negro que era Sam, al igual que no pensaba en lo blanco que era Elvis. Sam, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole cantaban en el fondo mientras yo me enamoraba y desenamoraba en la escuela. Lloraba con mi mama cuando vimos An Imitation of Life (Imitación de la Vida) acerca de Susan Kohner haciendo el papel de una negra de tez clara que se hizo pasar por blanca en la escuela y trataba mal a Juanita Moore, en el papel de la mama morena de Susan. Su mama también era la sirvienta y la mejor amiga de Lana Turner en la película.
No los odiábamos y no los queríamos lastimar cuando nos reíamos de las cosas tontas que decían, o que nos contaban que decían. Cuando se asustaban, sus ojos grandes se veían chistosos, y hablaban de una manera sumamente graciosa. Amos y Andy y el amigo inseparable de Jack Benny, Rochester, nos hicieron reír hasta que nos dolían las panzas. Sonreíamos con cariño con Hattie McDaniels y Butterfly McQueen en Lo que el viento se llevo.
No os odiábamos. Nos encantaba su música y su estilo. En la primaria, cada ano nos pintábamos las caritas blancas con corcho quemado y cantábamos canciones de los negros en un Minstrel Show. Cantabamos “Swanee” con Asa Yoelsen, hijo de un inmigrante judío lituano quien era rabino y cantor. Asa, cuyo nombre de escenario era Al Jolson, en guantes blancos y un smoking, se pintaba de negro y cantaba de como añoraba estar con su Mammy entre su pueblo en D-I-X-I-E. En los anos treinta lo llamaban el “Artista Mas Grande del Mundo.”
No los odiábamos, pero si les teníamos mucha lastima. Yo le daba gracias al Señor que había nacido blanca en América, y me preguntaba como fue que El, in su infinita sabiduría, había decretado que Warsh y Natalie serian morenos de destinados a vivir en aquella sector del pueblo, mientras que yo seria blanca y permitida vivir dondequiera que pudiera pagar la renta. Me preguntaba porque los pequeños en la película del misionero habían nacido en África y tenían que andar casi desnudos, mientras yo había nacido en América y tenia mucha ropa y zapatos de sobra.
En verdad, no los odiábamos.
When #BlackLivesMatter is countered with hateful slogans or the faux-egalitarian #AllLivesMatter, I recall sadly how for many years of my life, Black Lives really didn’t matter. Wichita Falls, Texas, didn’t hate black people. Many of us even kind of liked black people. We loved Sammy Davis, Jr., Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, and Louis Armstrong. We expressed our racial bias in a manner even more insidious than hate or aggression. We simply didn’t see black people. The evidence of this can be found in vintage issues of my hometown newspaper, which lack evidence of any black population at all.
I love newspapers. One of the most joyful sounds of my late childhood was the thump of The Wichita Falls Times, artfully folded into a kind of double boomerang that eased its flight from the hand of the boy on the bicycle to our front porch. (That sound was second for anticipated joy only to the postman’s footsteps on that porch, followed by the shuffling of papers, and the dull tinny ding of the letter box closing.) I would retrieve the folded newspaper, unfold it, and plop myself down on the living room floor to peruse the headlines, read Dear Abby, Dr. Crane, letters to the editor, a few comic strips and cartoons, and, on Thursdays, the high school news roundup, “Teen Times.”
My family was too busy for the morning newspaper, The Wichita Falls Record News, but on Sundays, the two newspapers were combined into an extravaganza for all subscribers to either or both papers: The Sunday Times-Record News. It was rolled, not folded, because it was so thick, and it hit the porch with a thud rather than a thump. On rainy Sundays, it came encased in plastic.
After church on Sunday mornings, my family members would divide the paper into sections and then exchange them as we finished. I always wanted first shot at the full-color comics or the society pages. I was enthralled by the photographs of beautiful brides in full wedding dress and the artfully retouched portraits of brides-to-be with their engagement announcements. I would watch for news and photographs of the Junior Forum Debutante Ball in May and the more elite Cotillion Debutante White Tie Ball in December.
Before 1964, black people were required by law to live in designated sections of town. In Wichita Falls, that area was east of the railroad tracks, Flood Street and beyond. Mexicans lived there too, by custom rather than law, clustered on the side closer to the tracks. A few of them lived in the “white” part of town, like Dr. Martinez from Mexico City and his pale and elegant wife and daughters, whom the town people called “Spanish” to distinguish them from darker and less prestigious “Mexicans.”
There were two high schools in Wichita Falls then, but if you ask any white citizen over 65 how many there were, he or she will invariably answer, “One.” Wichita Falls High School was not the white high school. It was the high school. Booker T. Washington High School had excellent facilities, although even now I can’t say where they are located–somewhere, I assume, way beyond Flood Street. I have never seen them. Booker T had a championship football team, an outstanding marching band, and a choir that was recognized statewide and occasionally came to sing in the elegant churches of the white people.
This is where my love of The Wichita Falls Times connects with the myth of one high school in Wichita Falls. You see, the newspaper was, for me, a mirror of my world. I knew that there was Flood Street and beyond. I knew that kids who lived there went to Booker T. Washington High School. I even ventured a few times to their home football games to watch the jazzy marching band. There were black people in town working in the few jobs open to them. I went on mission expeditions to teach Vacation Bible School in the Projects. Some white people even trekked across muddy Flood Street to benefit from the excellent work and lower prices of the “colored” dentist at his elegant home with a built-on clinic.
I didn’t hate black people. I thought racism was evil and spoke against it on occasion. I didn’t hate or dislike black people, but I didn’t see black people. The mirror of my world, The Wichita Falls Times, didn’t report Booker T.’s sports news. Their many band and choir awards got no recognition or photographs in “Teen Times.” There were no photographs of black students doing anything at all. Black brides and debutantes were never featured on the society pages. Black churches were not included in Saturday’s “guide to worship services.” Even black crimes were usually reported only in the police notes at the back of the news. Black people were not allowed to patronize the same local restaurants where I ate or the stores where I shopped. When I traveled by bus, they had their sections in the station and on the bus, and they used the toilets and drinking fountains marked “colored.”
No, Wichita Falls, Texas, had no problem with black people. We simply ignored them to the point of near non-existence. There were no black faces reflected in our mirror on the world.