When I was in journalism school in college, a professor told us would-be scribes that journalists don’t tell people what to think—they tell people what to think about. In other words, the enterprising reporter places a spotlight on issues that matter, that spark meaningful dialogue that helps to address our nation’s most pressing concerns. The objective journalist does not promote a particular point of view, but surveys the landscape, collecting viewpoints that can be shared with the electorate.
Unfortunately, in the feeding frenzy that results from 24-hour news coverage and the cut-throat quest for ratings, much of our daily news diet consists of something along the lines of trending topics on Twitter—not much in the way of sustenance, but plenty of sizzle.
In recent days, the news has been saturated with stories about abortion and the 2012 election. But I would argue that, despite the seemingly non-stop, breathless coverage, the real issue of abortion has not been covered at all.
Let me explain. Student journalists are taught never to assume. While you are not to insult the intelligence of your audience, you are not to assume that they know all there is to know about a subject. In fact, they may know darn little.
As an example, let’s take the issue of fracking. Strong feelings exist on both sides of this issue. Yet, mention the word, and some educated people may say, “Huh?” That would explain why, for instance, a Washington Post article on the subject, in its very first line, explains that fracking is the fracturing of shale rock that gives rise to natural gas.
But in news stories about abortion, you don’t see or hear a definition of the term. It’s assumed we all know what it is. But how many people really do know?
I do not recall any of my science textbooks in school explaining the procedure of abortion. At the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, where I work, we receive essays each year from junior high and high school students for our annual writing contest. Invariably, we will see essays from 7th graders who, after researching abortion, exclaim something to the effect that “I can’t believe this is going on” and “How can this be legal?”
Even purportedly reputable polling on the issue of abortion cannot be trusted. A recent CNN poll asked, “Do you think abortion should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?”
Again, for purposes of discussion, let’s substitute the word “fracking” for “abortion” in the poll question. A respondent’s first response might be, “What exactly is fracking?”
CLICK LIKE IF YOU’RE PRO-LIFE!
If the CNN poll question were re-phrased to include a definition of abortion, would the results be the same? Of course, then the issue becomes: How is the definition derived? If the terminology comes from an organization, such as Planned Parenthood, which receives money from the practice of abortion, the language would be suspect.
The news has been filled with stories about abortion recently. But not really. Until there is in-depth coverage of what abortion really is—and its real effects on women, both born and unborn—the news reports are just a bunch of words strung together, which do not fulfill the requirements of Journalism 101.