4 things to know about the media


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Have you ever wondered about how the media works, or how stories are picked and framed? Here are some answers

This week Dove was blasted online for featuring a Nigerian woman ‘turning into’ a white woman in an ad campaign.

I came across the story on my Facebook feed, as SBS had covered it in an article.

The article stated that Dove had apologised for the ad, and proceeded to detail several of the criticisms that had been voiced over social media.

However it was only after reading the comments section that the true context of the story emerged—the actual ad showed a series of women from different ethnicities turning into one another, from black to white to Asian and so forth.

The SBS article had not mentioned this at all and had cut the ad to show only the first part as a static image—and so framed Dove in a particularly bad light.

After the story spread across several news channels, the dark-skinned woman in the ad even had to write an article in The Guardian pointing out that she “is not a victim” and that the ad was not racist.

At first, it made me angry that the article had not provided appropriate context.

As a reporter myself, I thought: what really happens when the media makes errors like this, including errors of omission?

Our editorial team receives criticisms regularly about what we choose to write about and the way we write it.

Here are some truths and misconceptions about journalists.

1. Journalists are human and make mistakes.

It seems obvious but it’s worth saying: despite all efforts, mistakes happen. It’s human nature.

In general journalists are trained to write balanced articles and refer to sources from both sides.

Unfortunately as with any other profession – or any facet of life – reporters make mistakes.

Sometimes an article might be framed a certain way and it’s because the author has not properly checked their biases.

In addition, due to shrinking media budgets, the sub-editor teams that would have been more likely to pick up on errors no longer exist in newsrooms.

Being in the public eye, errors open reporters up to criticism. Constructive criticism is always beneficial, but as with any social interaction, it’s important to remember to be fair and kind.

This first point leads to the second, which is that…

2. Journalists work to strict deadlines.

In the digital age, reporters are expected to write several stories a day to keep up with demand and the news cycle. They are under pressure to research, collect quotes, images, get numbers and names right, write articles and all at the same time, help to maintain websites, forums and social media pages.

Just as in the pharmacy, if a pharmacist is expected to dispense a large amount of prescriptions per day, mistakes are more likely to occur.

And while a mistake in an article may not necessarily kill a person in the same way an incorrectly dispensed medication can, the resulting damage can be widespread and longlasting.

3. Journalists are part of a team.

Often when a divisive story is published, readers are quick to attack the person who wrote it. There might be an assumption that the journalist wrote the story because they have a personal interest or opinion on the matter.

However before a story goes up on a website or in print, chances are at least one other person in the editorial team has looked at and vetted the story. The journalist may have even been specifically asked to write the story by their editor, boss or colleague.

4. Most of the time, journalists don’t cover a story based on personal opinion.

Don’t shoot the messenger!

Stories are chosen based on reader interest and currency. Basically, if it’s timely, if people are talking about it or will talk about it (and in our context, if it’s pharmacy-related), we will write about it.

Sometimes this leads to criticism, with individuals or groups claiming the publication is running a campaign for – or vendetta against – some cause or another.

In most cases this couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you’re wondering why we covered an article, think about it: did you click on the article? Did you read it or comment on it? …That’s why we covered it.

Do you have any other questions about the media and how it works? Ask below!

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16 Comments

  1. Kirsten Bruce
    12/10/2017

    Thanks for the valuable insights into journalism in the digital age Sheshtyn and congrats for appropriately defending your (my former) profession. Best wishes, Kirsten Bruce, Principal, VIVA! Communications

  2. Jarrod McMaugh
    12/10/2017

    I particularly liked this line Sheshtyn – {{If you’re wondering why we covered an article, think about it: did you click on the article? Did you read it or comment on it? …That’s why we covered it.}}

    One of the things that i like about AJP is that the articles and the headings are generally non-sensational (ie – not click bait). That makes the line above all the more relevant here, but perhaps not so relevant in other publications!

    Also, to the second point – it doesn’t help that some contributors (especially myself) perhaps push your deadlines a little too close for comfort….

  3. Willy the chemist
    16/10/2017

    Thanks for humanising journalists, Sheshtyn. Often my first impression is that journalism is about sensationalism and all about an agenda. So it present a good human side.

    I do believe that extra care must be taken in particular with certain topics. The article mentioned above regarding the Dove advert is one in particular. Whilst pharmacists need to be diligent and take care all the times, when dispensing narrow therapeutic index or highly toxic medicines, I would take extra time and steps.
    What was the news trying to opined, what was the message? Hence more care required.

    Diversity is also lacking in today’s media. Difference of opinion doesn’t immediately equate the person to being a red-neck or “conservatives” or climate denier. We sit on too many bandwagons and heckle people who have a difference of opinions….and often these are done from a position of superiority.
    I was told to hang up my white coat by a colleague because I believe first we do no harm. I cannot advocate a non-medical abortion (life terminating) on principle. I believe I should follow my conscience. Our debate should be more mature and considered.

  4. Ronky
    23/10/2017

    So you’re saying that it’s quite possible, even quite common, that a story is printed or put up on a website when nobody other than the author has even seen it. Wow.
    Thank you, that explains a lot.

    • Sheshtyn Paola
      23/10/2017

      I don’t think you read my story very closely Ronky. Maybe you should read first before commenting.

      “before a story goes up on a website or in print, chances are at least one other person in the editorial team has looked at and vetted the story.”
      however
      “due to shrinking media budgets, the sub-editor teams that would have been more likely to pick up on errors no longer exist in newsrooms.”

      • Ronky
        23/10/2017

        Yes, that passage which I read very closely is exactly what I’m commenting on. I don’t understand your objection.

        • Jarrod McMaugh
          23/10/2017

          Because you’re saying that no one else reads it.

          The sub-editor is between the author/reporter and the editor. therefore when there is a subeditor, there would be two sets of eyes other than the author

          • Ronky
            23/10/2017

            No, I said it’s POSSIBLE no-one else reads it.
            Yes I know what a subeditor is (or apparently was), thanks for the patronising explanation. Shestyn said the subeditor teams no longer exist.

          • Jarrod McMaugh
            24/10/2017

            Ronky, did you read the article critically? Did you take into account the purpose of the article before formulating your response?

            The point that led Sheshtyn to write this article, is that she saw an article that was portrayed out of context.

            The particular line you are quoting Sheshtyn on is this
            “However before a story goes up on a website or in print, chances are at least one other person in the editorial team has looked at and vetted the story”

            So, in context, this is from the paragraph about the topic/tone of the article being written:
            “3. Journalists are part of a team.

            Often when a divisive story is published, readers are quick to attack the person who wrote it. There might be an assumption that the journalist wrote the story because they have a personal interest or opinion on the matter.

            However before a story goes up on a website or in print, chances are at least one other person in the editorial team has looked at and vetted the story. The journalist may have even been specifically asked to write the story by their editor, boss or colleague.”

            That is, before a journalist (or a column writer like myself) write an article, the topic has normally been discussed with someone else in the team, although occasionally this is not the case.

            This is not the same as having an editor look over the final article.

            Do you see the difference between what you have taken from this article, and what it was about?

            If nothing else, your feedback has delivered a profound amount of irony

          • Gavin Mingay
            24/10/2017

            So you are saying that a certain National Health Reporter for News Corporation might not actually have a vendetta against pharmacy? Wow…

          • Jarrod McMaugh
            24/10/2017

            G’Day Gavin.

            Let me just say that any commentary I make in support of AJP journalists does not extend to supporting the individual you are talking about.

            Although I would say that there is probably zero chance that this person’s articles aren’t also vetted…. it’s just that the particular publication you are referring to is happy with the slant that these articles take.

            Is that response vague enough for everyone!

          • Andrew
            24/10/2017

            lol…she’s not going to sue you for calling her a liar, Jarrod. It’s demonstrably true.

        • Sheshtyn Paola
          23/10/2017

          so I write: “there is at least one editorial staff member other than the author that reads the story”

          and your interpretation is: “it is quite common that nobody other than the author reads the story”

          …where is the logic in that, Ronky?

          • Gavin Mingay
            23/10/2017

            I thought it said “chances are at least one other person in the editorial team has looked at and vetted the story” which would imply that is not always the case. I guess this is what Ronky was referring to..

          • Ronky
            23/10/2017

            Not sure if English is your first language, but when we say “chances are there will be a shower this afternoon”, we mean that there’s a significant possibility that there won’t be. “Chances are” doesn’t mean “it’s absolutely certain” or even “probably”.

          • Sheshtyn Paola
            23/10/2017

            hahahahaha not sure if English is my first language? You say to someone whose full-time profession is writer and reporter. Nice try Ronky!

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