The Official Ablest Standards for Hard-News Writing

After hearing about Facebook’s attempts to reduce the amount of misinformation being spread over its servers, coupled with my university classes in hard-news writing, I’ve decided to come up with my own set of ethical and stylistic standards that must be met in order to be officially legit journalism, in my view.

The biggest problem to me with news I see in today’s markets, is that it has become far too mixed with material that would, in traditional newspapers of my era, be limited only to the editorial page. “OP-ED” (opinion/editorial) has crept into the voice of what used to be “hard news” that answered the who-what-when-where questions.

The following is a set of rules that seek to establish firmer boundaries between opinion and legit journalism. In fact, this very list (and arguably, my entire blog), is editorial and does not masquerade as a hard news source.

If at any point in reading these, you think, “well, that just takes the artistic style right out of it,” then you’ve stumbled upon the crux of the issue.

As a hard-news journalist, you are not an interpreter. Your opinion about something is absolutely irrelevant. Your journalistic interest is to style your writing as embellishless as possible. You are not putting your heart out there. You are not making an impassioned plea for justice, to seek empathy, or to raise pitchforks with like-minded citizens. Your job is not to confirm, propose, establish, or link possible connections to gain sympathy from readers. If that /is/ your job, then you are not a hard-news journalist. You may be a feature writer, a reviewer, a commentator, a talking head — but you are not a hard news journalist and cannot reasonably expect people to consider you one.

You are writing hard news, which includes things like, “The mayor gave a speech on Thursday about the e-cigarette ban, according to official press releases,” or, “Judges awarded J’Kondriq Steinerandanopolous the first-place trophy at the fourth-annual Swindontown Spelling Bee held at London Elementary on Monday.” Your writing is stilted, direct, and confirmed by genuine, cited, external sources.


1. No reporting opinions, nor opinions of sources, as the focus of an article.

You may need to revisit high school English and reading comprehension to distinguish between “opinion” or “fact” based sentences.
Think of the difference between movie reviews or scoring on darts.

Describing something as joyful, poorly-lighted, or sloppy, is opinion, because the description is subject to agreement or disagreement by the reader. You are not trying to engage readers, nor are you trying to evoke a response from them about you, your article, or your publication.

Describing something as six feet high, 43 years old, having happened on Avenue H, on Tuesday, or as-stated-by a source, is factual; it is not person-interpreted and research can be conducted by any given other person verify the measurement, age, location, date, source, etc.



2. Avoid adverbs, “loaded” phrasing, and buzzwordy terms if if they aren’t directly relevant.

An adverb can be a word with an -ly suffix, such as finally or lavishly. Those are interpretations that do not belong in your article, because they frame the opinion for the reader, without the reader’s consent.

A loaded question in an interview would be, “At what time last night did you stop beating your children?” for which the only valid answer according to the question is a time, rather than a defense that one did not even start (or stop) beating one’s children.

A loaded statement could include “probably” or other presumptions that couldn’t be proven, such as “The enraged assailant dove toward officers before being killed by crossfire,” because the attitude of the assailant can’t be confirmed by the only authoritative source (which is the assailant) since they’re dead. You are not interpreting, nor reporting on interpretations.

Buzzwording is the inclusion of descriptors that have no business being there in terms of relevance to the story. You’re not attempting to ensnare the attention of the largest number of people to be empathetic or outraged as possible; you’re reporting on concrete details that are relevant.

“Legal Mexican immigrant to the US, dishonorably discharged from the US Army, and gay widowed mother of two, Syndyy Houpskurt, who lives on food stamps, won the decathlon on Wednesday, according to Olympic officials,” is buzzworded, because the athlete’s civil service, military branch, progeny, marital status, sexual preferences, and income are irrelevant to winning the race.

If you’re writing about the humanity of the person, then you’re thinking of feature writing, not hard news. The hard news of this is, “Olympic officials announce Syndyy Houpskurt of the United States as winner of the decathlon.”

A descriptor of this nature, such as the citizenship of the athlete could be relevant due to the official relationship to nation-of-origin within the Games, however, or such as a person whose unique abilities permits them to enter the Special Olympics, and that the ability mentioned is relevant toward qualifying them to enter.

Mentioning that a person involved in a robbery is black, for instance, is buzzwording. Noting that a man with ties to the mob and identified on a beach by his hairy chest is Italian, that a person who was awarded tenure at a prestigious university is rich and white, or that the person charged with disturbing the peace by screaming plane noises is a member of the Air Force, is all buzzwording.


3. Statements of the absoluteness of a future event must be avoided.

As a journalist, you are not a prophet. Even things which could be reasonably ascertained to happen rain-or-shine, must be phrased as a description of the past or present as if the plausibility of their cancellation were genuine, and according to whom.

“The parade will be held downtown on Avenue G on Tuesday at 6am, according to Dixon,” should instead be,
“The parade is scheduled for a 6am start, downtown on Avenue G on Tuesday, according to Dixon,” but not,
“The blasphemous parade is foolishly scheduled to start way too early at 6am Tuesday, on the worst street our city has to offer, Avenue G, according to our psycho of a mayor.”

“The president will give a formal address regarding the issue on Wednesday, sources say,” should be,
“The president is planning to give a formal address on the issue on Wednesday, White House source Ed Grimley confirms,” but not,
“Our most annoying president yet is planning to ramble incoherently about the total non-issue on Wednesday, White House lackey Ed ‘Sharts-his-britches’ Grimley blabbered last night.”



4. Uncounted or unnumbered mass nouns are completely disallowed.

Phrasing like senate democrats, gang members, and Californians which do not specify how many and which in particular, are outlawed.

Specify directly how many persons are involved, up front, and maintain their distinction apart from groups to which they could be associated, and avoid associating any groups with them where possible.

If you have 30 citizens of Vermont who have gone on strike, do not say, “Vermont citizens go on strike,” but say how many, of which city or neighborhood, or for which company. Generalizing the citizens so that the largest possible number of readers could empathize or disagree with them is not your role.

If Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alakska, have co-authored a bill to be introduced, do not say “Senate Republicans Propose Bill,” say, “Senators Shelby of Alabama and Murkowski of Alaska co-author bill.”

If the number of people involved is infeasible to list uniquely, maintain the distinction of their number apart from association of other groups. Even if your readership is arguable mostly golfers, specify which people are doing the thing, saying it, etc.


5. Do not interpret documents, nor quote interpretations of documents.

Sentences and phrasing like, “the law would allow farmers to shoot anyone they like,” must prevented from publication. If a bill says something that seems like it could be open to abuse, directly quote the specific phrasing of the actual bill language, and allow the reader to interpret it uniquely.

The main problem with the quotation of interpretation, is that in order for the writer to remain objectively neutral, then a counterargument must also be quoted, but what constitutes an appropriate counterargument is itself, opinion.

6. If your sources insist on anonymity, then you have no sources.

You must be able to prove you are not making it up, or that the writer of the article is not using their own knowledge as the source and simply claiming “anonymous” in place of their own knowledge.

If you believe the source’s remarks are really really really necessary to report, investigate the claim and find a source who is willing to be cited to confirm it, and then use that cited source as the source, rather than the original.

If you still are unable to cite a specific source directly even between numerous sources that all insist on anonymity, then don’t report it. If it absolutely must must must be reported on, in violation of ethical treatment of people, pets or property, then journalism is not the audience for it — higher-ranking authorities, a district attorney, a police officer writing a report, a crime tip-line, etc, are the appropriate demographic for your story. You are not a valid recipient of that information, and it is not your role to report on anonymous tips. You absolutely must cite your sources by name, period.

6. Information gained from hacks or leaks is not valid, even if the hacker is quoted directly.

The information that comes from a source that has a conflict of interest, or was gained through deceit, is by nature, deceitful, and must not be reported — the falsification of authority to access the information results in the plausible falsification of the data retrieved.

In like manner that, if police officers cannot break into your house in order to obtain evidence without a warrant, then you are not allowed to report information gained from the hacking or unofficial leak of data, because it was not procured officially.

7. Do not interpret a source’s words without that source’s consent of the interpretation.

If you’re reporting an interview with a source and including what you and they say back and forth, great. If you’re reporting an interview with what someone says, and then how you respond, without recording their response to your interpretation, then your talents are more suited for the paper route position, rather than the writing.

You are not reacting. You are not the voice of those who aren’t heard often enough. You are not seeing the story from your eyes, or any other delineated swath of the population. You do not draw conclusions that go unchecked without the satisfaction that the source you’re remarking upon has with your final copy.


If you encounter any source that claims to be news, but does not abide by these standards, it is my editorial proposal you have encountered a source that is excessively opinion-based, buzzworded, propagandized, reactionary, loaded, or judgmental, whose ethics for newswriting have been breached, and, like the hacker information from rule 6, can’t be reasonably considered accurate.

Were US Press Orgs Banned from a White House Briefing? NO. Here’s Why.

Making the rounds today seems to be the idea that certain organizations of the press have been “barred” from attending a briefing at the White House. Here are a few sample headlines I saw today:

CNN and Other Media Outlets Blocked From White House Gaggle (Mediaite.com)
White House blocks news organizations from press briefing (CNN)
White House blocks CNN, BBC, New York Times, LA Times from media briefing (The Independent, UK)
CNN, New York Times, other media barred from White House briefing (The Washington Post)
The White House Has Officially Blocked Some News Organizations From A Press Briefing (Bustle.com)

I want to make clear that I am not a Trump supporter. No portion of the Trump campaign appealed to me, and I was in a complete state of disbelief when the results came in from the general election, and still had a shred of hope it might not happen before the electoral college confirmed it. I’m still in a whirlwind of slow realization (a slow whirlwind? yes) that Trump’s presidency is actually real.

However, this story has been spun pretty much hardcore right from the beginning.

Could there, in fact, actually be a way to explain this, that isn’t outrageous?

Yes.

1. According to this interview by CNN almost immediately after it happened, the reporter herself who was supposedly snubbed, described how the so-called blocking actually took place, quote:

We lined up. We were told there was a list ahead of time, which is sort-of abnormal, but we put our name on the list and when we went to enter, I was blocked by white house staffer who said we were not on the list for this gaggle today.

So, the press wasn’t banned from entering, necessarily, but just that by name the people prevented from entering weren’t on the list to enter. A greater context of the list hasn’t been presented in a clearer way that I’ve been able to tell, so basically all of the reports of being banned or barred are purely superficial interpretations about the nature of the list. Until we can get a better look at the list or the motive behind the list, then only we can just speculate before any reasonable conclusions could be drawn.

2. According to the Associated Press here, the limited pool was selected from people who distribute to the larger media pool.

Considering the entire audio of the briefing is available to listen to in its entirety, freely, (here), is a testament toward that fact — the smaller reporting pool did, in fact, report to the larger pool. The smaller pool was all that was necessary. The big whiners who didn’t get let in didn’t need to be in, because the distribution of the audio is plainly available to everyone, so whether the people who stamp their feet in for not getting in doesn’t matter because the pool that did get in did what it was supposed to do.

3. Only at the very last second, seemingly when people are shuffling around and getting up to leave, a woman asks whether the seeming selectivity of who could attend might be interpreted as favoritism, Sean Spicer (who is the White House Press Secretary, who held the briefing), made a joke saying, “You’re my favorite,” in the middle of the question, and the people in the room laughed at it. The question itself wasn’t scathing, and the mood seemed out of curiosity and not harshly accusatory, unlike how all of the articles about the slight were interpreted well after the fact.

4. There is a *great* interview conducted by CNN (here) with Ari Fleisher, who was the press secretary for George Jr back in the day. Ari essentially says No, no, you’re blowing this all way out of proportion, and that past white-houses had done this kind of thing all the time.

Master List of America First Country Response Videos

On January 23, 2017, in light of Trump’s US presidential inauguration, a comedy news-satire show (think The Daily Show in the US) in the Netherlands called Zondag met Lubach created a satire clip that introduced Trump to their country. Several other countries have also followed with their own version. This master-list attempts to collect all of those country-introduction videos onto a single page =) All of these are understood to be parody, and not “official” of any kind. Also included are amateur versions, so quality may vary greatly.

The original:

The Netherlands Welcomes Trump in his own words:

The others (all YouTube links if possible, and in no particular order):
Italy Second – Reaction to Trump’s America First
America First, Australia Second/ Australia Welcomes Trump In His Own Words (Official)
FINLAND WELCOMES TRUMP – AMERICA FIRST, FINLAND SECOND! (OFFICIAL)
Sweden Welcomes Trump In His Own Words – America First, Sweden Second [Un-Official]
America First, New Zealand Second
America First, Nigeria Second / Nigeria presents itself to Donald Trump as second priority
AMERICA FIRST, POLAND FIRSTER!(official) – REKLAMA POLSKI
America First … but what about Iran? #everysecondcounts
America first, Czech Republic FIFTY FIRST! (official)
Croatia Second (official) – ŠarićMarekovićTomacProduction
Morocco Second (Official)
America first, BOSNIA second #EverySecondCounts
Luxembourg Second (Official) | Studio Ben
China welcomes Trump in his own words. #everysecondcounts
America first, MACEDONIA second – #EverySecondCounts
America first, PAKISTAN third #EverySecondCounts
America first… Slovenia second (OFFICIAL)
America first – Austria second official (mit Untertitel) Willkommen Österreich
KAZAKHSTAN SECOND (official) America First | Response to the Netherlands
Lithuania welcomes Trump | Laikykitės ten su Andriumi Tapinu
Spain Second (Official)
4Litro – America first Madeira island second
Germany second | NEO MAGAZIN ROYALE mit Jan Böhmermann – ZDFneo
Switzerland Second (official) | DEVILLE LATE-NIGHT #everysecondcounts
Denmark second | Denmark Trumps The Netherlands at being no. 2
Portugal Second – 5 Para a Meia-Noite – RTP
Belgium welcomes Trump in his own words
Bulgaria second (Official) | България втора Gospodari.com
America first Fryslân second
America first , Slovakia second
America First & Romania Second or at Least Top 100 Please (OFFICIAL)
AMERICA FIRST, MOLDOVA SECOND (hand)
America First, Singapore Second (Official) – Welcoming Trump In His Own Words
America First /NAMIBIA FIRST (NOT SECOND) | Response to the Netherlands Trump welcome video
America First, India Second, Response to Netherlands video #Everysecondcounts #AmericaFirst
America first, North Korea second
America First, Ireland Second.
Israel Second (Official) | Israel Trumps Europe at being no. 2
America First, Iceland Second
America first, Mexico Second #EverySecondCounts (Oficial)
America First, AZORES Second…
FRANCE SECOND, AMERICA FIRST (OFFICIAL)
Ostfriesland Second (official) – America First Comedy

Others:
America First, Mordor Second
America first, Mars second! (EverySecondCounts)
America First, Hogwarts Second!
America First – Muslim World Second
America first – Bremen second // Bremen NEXT
Baden-Württemberg SECOND / AMERICA first (Parodie)
America First – Bavaria Second!
Make Kampen Greater – America & Kampen first (not second)
Cologne Second (Official) / Immisitzung
America First – Swabia Second! (?) 😉
Zürcher Oberland Second (official) – America First Comedy

Did I miss any? Please post in comments, and I’ll add it to the list. Also, if you can find a “more official” post than the video posted above (in case the one posted is a copy-cat), please share the actual original post for it =)

Did a Football Player Really Check/Tackle Trump? NO. Here’s Why.

Flying about the internets is an animated GIF of what appears to be a big football player in football gear “check” (ram into someone and knock them over) Donald Trump after exiting a tour bus, so that he falls backwards onto the bus.

Actually, it is an edited clip from a commercial for Terry Tate, which you can find below in full. Terry Tate is a character from a series of short comedy commercials called, “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker” created by Rawson Marshall Thurber. The first commercial was shown during the 2003 Superbowl, and several others were produced thereafter. The character was brought out of ‘retirement’ to make a commercial to encourage voting in the 2016 US election, shown below in its entirety (or linked directly here).

TW: The dialogue of the actual commercial below includes Trumps infamous “grab them” audio.

Did 4-Star Gen Petraeus Resign Over Classified Emails? NO. Here’s Why.

Making the rounds in my circles is a seeming disconnect between how Hillary Clinton’s classified-email scandal goes unchecked, while Four-star general of the United States David Petraeus is forced to resign due to leaking classified details in email:


(direct link)

Compare and Contrast

This is General Petraeus. Take a moment and consider his outstanding array of honors, medals & accomplishments. His crime? A classified email that was supposedly leaked. Result? He was prosecuted and forced to RESIGN.

Now consider Hillary Clinton. A Secretary of State with her own illegal private server, 30,000 + emails, (erased) with numerous CLASSIFIED Top Secret & beyond! Result? Yet to be determined. After all she’s a Democrat & just happens to be running for President of the United States..

Firstly, Patreus retired from the US military in 2011 as a 4-star General. The controversy that this meme attempts to reference is actually after that retirement, when Petraeus was the CIA director, and is actually concerning an extramarital affair Petraeus had with the writer of his biography, to whom he leaked a classified detail (and subsequently plead to 1 count of misdemeanor mishandling of classified information, without a plea deal). The affair itself is the reason Petraeus resigned from the CIA director position, not the mishandling of the information. Email was involved in the affair, but no source I can find suggests the classified information was transmitted via email — but rather, the racy nature of the correspondence was the issue.

A consideration of being demoted of his retirement-rank was passed along to authorities, but were ignored, and no such demotion or loss of awards/honors thereof were made.

Student Debt Solution: Govt EDU Bank Bonds, At-Cost to Student

In a Facebook discussion about student debt forgiveness, I wondered if, instead of the US government just forgiving debt of student loans, and instead of the students just getting out of paying their loans, and instead of banks getting absurd profits from students, what if the government issued a special kind of education bond, payable to the bank at the end of the borrowed-sum repayment?

1. Student applies for ‘education bond’ to pay for college and with enrollment proof/etc.

2. Bank pays the money required for college to the college, and files the borrowed-amount sum to the government.

3. Student pays bank only the borrowed-sum amount, no interest, gradually to actual borrowed total.

4. Student files with government that borrowed total is completely paid. Student and bank could perhaps get tax incentive for being in a education-bond contract.

5. Bank receives government request for acknowledgement that loan is paid.

6. Bank agrees, and government gives bank the bond amount’s interest (interest only, not borrowed sum) contingent that loan requirements are ended.

Funding for the interest-only payment from government to bank could come from programs like state lotteries, or continuation of the student tax incentives from Step 4 by the student paying back the government via itemized deductions.

Colleges could be taxed or penalized for not offering/accepting the bonds, or given tax-incentives for fundraising for the program via fraternity/sorority volunteering (with a nationwide competition for fundraising for the program) that could draw huge publicity to the college.

Could help create a new educational sector of banking jobs that focus only on these bonds, as safer investment opportunity for investors.

Other brainstorming ideas, or variations? Please add in the comments below (no registration required) =)