Fake News

There’s lots of conversations about “Fake News” today. The tag refers to untrue news stories, unsupported articles, or headlines, editorial decisions, or cut lines that distort the truth. One way to address the problem is to discontinue reading news sources that engage in such practices. Another is to become a better reader. Relying on headlines, news summaries, or photo cut lines is part of the problem. Read the whole story! One discipline, however, that might be helpful is to insist that the communicator “come down the ladder of abstraction.” This means that you insist on getting the full picture. For example, what if I told you that “today while driving to work I saw some cows grazing in the grass next to the highway?” Or, instead I told you that “while driving to work today I looked east off the highway and saw about 10 Guernsey cows grazzing in the grass. The sun was rising and cast a shining light on the dew-laden grass. A giant leafless elm tree stood nearby on a small hill as if standing guard over the herd.” Which description created a “word picture” in your mind? Probably the second. The first had little or no effect. As a writer, coming down the ladder of absraction is a way to effectively communicate, to tell your story, and where necessary to persuade. As a reader, it is something to insist upon if you are to really understand the story. If it is not there, you must either forget or seriously doubt the vearicity or worth of the article. You can also find other sources to fill out the picture. Truthful news is the result of readers insisting on better writing and disciplining oneself to come down the ladder of abstraction. Knowing the real and full story is a powerful and dynamic tool for the writer and the reader.

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