Genre

John commented on my post More on Literacy, and he raises some excellent points.  Regarding the lack of links in the news report, he said:

There were no links to original sources because a radio news article has different conventions, goals, and audience than an academic article. News articles whether in print or broadcast, rely on oral interviews for their information; citing a source means giving the name of the person they talked to. And they did that.

and

As you know, and probably teach, different genres have different rules.  Blogs and online writing are still new enough that the conventions aren’t formed yet, and even within the blogging world, there are different types of blogs with different types of rules forming, usually beginning with the style of offline writing they most resemble, or their writers are most familiar and comfortable with.

And he is absolutely right!  For instance, I checked Anderson Cooper’s blog, and there are few links in the way I think of them.  There are links to additional sources of information about the topics, however.  So I am at least given a place to start looking from.  But, as John says, there are different conventions in news blogs than there are in education blogs, for instance.  And there are fewer links.

So if I accept that this is how news writing is – even in the context of a blog,  I have to consider whether or not I am OK with that.

Obviously, I am not able to change the way news is written.  I don’t even really want to do that.  Well, maybe I do.  But I know it isn’t going to happen.  But I wonder if this is the way news should be written.

I lived for two years in El Salvador during the civil war (1980-1982).  Many of us there at the time commented on how the misrepresentations we saw in the US and even the British news media made us extremely skeptical of all news reports.  For instance, one morning I went to work, and everyone in the office was shocked to see I was there.  Why?  They had heard on the news that the town we were living in had been overtaken by the guerrillas during the night.  The cuartel, the army barracks less than a block from our house, had been captured and was under guerrilla control.  Or so the news reported.  But it didn’t happen.  As I said, this was less than a block from our house.  We slept with windows open all the time.  The soldiers in front of the cuartel waved to us as we passed by on our way to work, as they did every morning.

So for me personally, I cannot believe something just because I read it in the paper or online or see or hear a report.  I want to know where the information comes from.

So is it OK to say that news  reports don’t have to give us links to their sources or additional information because … they don’t give us links?  I cannot accept that for myself, for my own sources of news and information. I do not trust the media enough.  But that is my problem, not yours.

Also, I think there is a real difference between “news” and some of the other topics that are reported in the media.  If you are writing about a trial, a war, or something like that, it is probably not possible to cite your sources in the way I am advocating.  Linking to a guy standing on the street corner in Iraq who gives you information is not going to happen.  I know that.  But some reports can be linked to sources.  These are articles that pass as news but are really opinions.  And I think that the article that originally started this discussion is one of those kinds of reports.  There is no reason there couldn’t be links to one of the studies or even to more information about the educator quoted in the report.  A sidebar would make that easy.  It would add to the strength of the article for those who, like myself, want to know where these ideas came from.   As it was written, the article presents the opinions of one person as if they were fact, as if they were news.  That is when I want more information, when I want sources.

Obviously this isn’t a problem for a lot of people who read and listen to the news every day.  It isn’t even always a problem for me.  I have been known to accept what I am told on the news as well as the next person.  But I am not convinced that is a good thing.

I would argue that in these days when we have so much access to information, the conventions of writing – even in genre like news writing  – should change.  I think that we have a responsibility to invite our readers, whenever possible, to form their own opinions about what we  write.  We talk about the need for critical thinking, and yet we don’t seem to do much as a society to foster it.

John makes it clear that he is not trying to be argumentative, and I accept that.   This is a discussion that, in the old days, we would have had sitting around a table somewhere.  It would have been a friendly conversation then, as it is now.  But it is also an important discussion. And I am glad that John keeps coming back with his ideas.  When he, or anyone who comments here, shares his or her ideas, I am forced to re-examine my own.   So thanks, John!

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