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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Journalism stereotypes

There are only six possible characters in any news story. When you watch the news or read the paper, look for one or more of these guys:

The harried small-business owner. He's too busy to talk to the reporter, but he'll do it after heaving a heavy sigh. He's usually under some sort of pressure from the uncaring authority (see below). Maybe he's being forced to ban smoking in his bar, or he's had to lay off all of his staff because the feds discovered that they were all illegal immigrants, or the health inspector is forcing him to refrigerate his special sauces. Either way, you should feel very, very sorry for him and possibly even spend some money at his business. But don't think it's an ad! IT'S DEFINITELY NOT AN AD, GET IT? The fact that you suddenly want a hamburger is completely unrelated to the story. Look for this guy walking somberly with the reporter just before the camera pans up to the sign above his door.

The ne'er-do-well. Just because you only see him in mug shots and walking into the courthouse in slow motion under RCMP guard, that does NOT MEAN HE IS A CRIMINAL. That creepy music just happened to switch on while the reporter was talking. It shouldn't make you assume that anyone is a bad guy. If you think this, it's a decision that you personally came to after hearing both sides of the story.

The angel. Ideally, the angel is under 25 and very attractive. He or she can become the face of an entire movement. You cannot ever suggest that the angel is not telling the truth or is in any way responsible for any problems that he or she is dealing with. There are two types of angels that appear in news stories (the third type of angel is the reporter himself for having the courage to report on the story):

1) The out-of-commission angel: This person is a hero, usually with an amazing story. The details are truly incredible and often in-credible. Think of Jessica Lynch firing her gun until she ran out of bullets or Cassie Bernall telling the Columbine shooters that she believed in God. Who cares if these stories aren't true? They SOUND GREAT! Let's get her face on a T-shirt -- she's gorgeous! The best part is that all of the people who would be able to say that the story's not true are dead or unavailable.

2) The down-on-her-luck angel: This type of angel can be very unattractive. She might go a week or so between showers. Maybe she wears radishes as earrings and lives in a van down by the river. This angel's able to talk, which makes everyone very uncomfortable. You see, she's usually not really an angel. Usually, she's at least partly to blame for whatever misfortune has befallen her. And she seems to attract a lot of misfortune. Her background needs a lot of scrubbing and selective camera angles. Don't worry, though: You'll only see her on screen for a few minutes at most. The reporter can't put up with her any longer than that; besides, it's all he needs to illustrate his story about the meanie social worker who won't help the angel score her teddy bears that are secretly stuffed with cocaine.

The expert. He's (yes, he's male) only called in to give credibility to someone's claims. He wears a suit and he sits in front of a wall of big heavy books. If he has no books, he's shown typing at a computer or near some symbol of authority. He might have a stethoscope around his neck to prove that he's a doctor. If he's a professional expert, he's very good at giving simple sound bites that lead to only one conclusion, like this: "That's definitely a foot bone. I can tell from the tiny cracks on the left side. No need to excavate the rest of it. Your work here is done." If he's never been on TV before, he will usually say something like this: "I'm not sure. It could be a foot bone, but it could also be a tibia. We need to dig up the entire bone and examine it before I'll be able to make any definitive conclusions." Then he will never be invited to go on TV again.

The uncaring authority.
Usually, this is some poor sap who works for the government, possibly the social worker who isn't letting the angel get her cocaine-filled teddy bears. It doesn't HAVE to be the government, though: it can be anyone in any position of power. This person is usually shown typing at a computer just before he explains why the angel or the harried small-business owner can't get everything she wants. For example, it is usually the uncaring authority's job to explain that the angel is not being denied an apartment because she is gay, she is being denied an apartment because it's a pet-free building and she refuses to give up her cat. It's possible for the same person to be cast as an uncaring authority one day and an angel or maverick the next. This is because reporters think you are stupid.

The maverick. This fellow's dangerous to The Man. Fortunately for the reporter, anything a maverick says is 100% true. He's shown with the sick and the downtrodden. He is the only one who cares. Best of all, HE KNOWS WHAT IT'S LIKE ON THE INSIDE! He's worked with the uncaring authority! He has great stories and he's always criticising the uncaring authority with fabulous zingers: "It's really important for doctors to treat patients. I know someone who didn't get treatment. I'm the only one who cares!" Or: "The church is destroying itself. I know someone who's an atheist. I'm the only one who cares!" Case closed! The maverick can be on TV or in the newspaper any time he wants. Like the down-on-her-luck angel, the maverick can sometimes attract a lot of misfortune, but this is because he is the only one who is willing to speak the truth. The Man's afraid of him! THAT'S why the uncaring authority never takes him seriously! He either ends up living in a van down by the river or retires quite happily in his million-dollar mansion on the nice side of town.