I believe the fundamental duty of reporting the news is reporting the facts. Background can also be important to understand those facts. News moves into the realm of the editorial when there’s more interpretation than reporting. Taken a step further still, the alleged facts are simply a ‘foot in the door’ to what the author really wants to put in front of the reader.
Take the Globe and Mail article, “Death spurs headphone debate.” The article describes the background this way:
Isaiah Otieno, a 23-year-old student, was killed when he was struck and dragged by a helicopter that crashed to the ground as he was walking to the mailbox.
Tragic and completely bizarre. The article then goes a step further, moving away from the reporting of facts:
Eyewitnesses reported that Mr. Otieno seemed completely unaware that he was in danger and a friend told reporters that he often listened to music through earbuds (in-ear headphones) with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head.
Do you notice the lack of any mention that Otieno was wearing headphones when he was killed? This point is conspicuous in its absense. The thrust of the entire article depends on this one point, but there’s no mention of it. Otieno’s death is only a segue to an article about headphone safety.
I was referred to the Globe and Mail article by a posting on Gizmodo. Author Sean Fallon wraps it up quite nicely:
While I completely agree that listening to music too loudly can inhibit your ability to recognize and react to a potentially dangerous situation around you, I can’t help but find it completely baffling that this story sparked a debate about the dangers of headphone use while completely glossing over the fact that this dude was hit by a helicopter. In fact, no concrete evidence was given that he was even wearing headphones at the time. At any rate, this fiasco has really struck a chord with me. From this day forward I will not wear headphones while travelling on foot just in case a meteor, satellite, or charging rhino should be barrelling towards me.
The old newspaper truism “if it bleeds, it leads” has never been more true. Not only does it lead, but it can lead anywhere else the author wants to go.