There is often a thin line between news and gossip. Information that is crucial to
one person is irrelevant, useless, or boring to another. So the question is this: Who
decides which story goes into a newspaper, or on a news broadcast, or on a website or
app? Who decides how much space or time does it get and where it is placed?
Answer to all those questions: The editor. It’s called news judgment, and a good
editor knows the information preferences of readers.
Does that mean editors and reporters are biased? Part of that depends on how one
defines bias. A textbook for Journalism 101 will ask reporters how they would handle
any given story. That is, what is the angle or slant of the opening paragraphs?
Anyone familiar with sewing and tailoring will recognize the term “cut on the
bias,” which means the angle of the cut. The word bias has also acquired a negative
connotation, in that it can mean prejudiced.
Political candidates and corporate executives are fond of calling any journalist who
poses a tough question biased. And some go further, denigrating as incompetent,
lousy, or otherwise a poor example of journalism, any news outlet that disagrees with
their positions or has the temerity to endorse another candidate.
Unless the news outlet prints or publishes a full, complete, and accurate account
of what is said or done, reporters and editors face accusations of bias. But what
constitutes full and complete? How much of any given news event or speech should
be printed or broadcast? Not every word of every speech is worth repeating.
At the same time, business folk need to build and maintain good relationships
with media reporters, even as the relationships are often, by nature, adversarial. But
that does not mean they are enemies. Each has a job to do, and when both sides do
JOHN T. HARDING retired from The Star-Ledger in
Newark, New Jersey, in 1997 after 27 years as a business
and economics writer, copy editor, and wire editor. He
was an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University,
his Phi Kappa Phi chapter and alma mater, and at Rutgers
University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
their jobs well, the public benefits. A
knowledgeable and resourceful public
relations professional can be a valuable
resource in spreading a company’s
message. Good PR representatives
not only know corporate needs, but
journalism’s needs as well, and can
advise an executive in advance of an
interview what questions are likely
to come from any of the reporters
covering the company’s industry.
The only opinions reporters
and editors should have are what
constitutes a good story. And good
stories don’t always match a candidate’s
— or a corporate executive’s —
Gossip is what people want to know.
News is what they need to know.