Radical or ridiculous? Idea #2: Devil’s Advocate News

Okay, so this second idea in my series of suggestions could well just be bonkers. My office certainly thinks it is (and I can understand why).But it won’t go away, so I need you lot to either pick it apart for me or (less likely) tell me I’m a misunderstood genius.
Here’s my thinking. Journalists are frequently accused of bias, either overtly politcal or simply choosing the ‘wrong’ angle for a story.
Now obviously news writing demands an angle. So we are taught, anyway. And finding an angle usually means picking a side. Getting everyone’s point of view in an intro does not make for exciting reading. We are required to attract the interest of increasingly time-poor readers, so we craft intros and headlines that grab the attention.
But we all know that in doing so, we may be doing a disservice to one side or the other, choosing a relatively minor fact in a report or highlighting bad news in a sea of good. On some occasions finding the angle might mean actively, if not maliciously, misrepresenting the subject or person we write about.
Increasingly, and especially online, readers are not only spotting this but expressing their disgust, cynicism and dislike of the angle or tone we choose on a story.
Some examples from our paper: the surf reef (not everyone thinks it’s a disaster), a new football ground on an open space (some people think it’s a brilliant idea); the disaster plan for a flu pandemic (otherwise known to readers as complete nonsense that shouldn’t have been anywhere near the front page).
So I had an idea. Now bear in mind this idea assumes that a) we’re not going to start writing balanced but boring intros for news stories any time soon and b) is intended as a way of engaging those disaffected readers. Having our well-spun cake and eating it, if you like.
We’d call it Devil’s Advocate and it would work a bit like this. You’re a reader. You’ve seen a report of a meeting, or a decision, and you think we’ve got the angle wrong. We’ve highlighted the good instead of the bad, or vice versa, quoted the wrong people, missed out a tranche of opinion.
So you submit what you think we should have written, whether a complete story, or a section of quotes, or a different version of events. (I should make clear that we’d obviously leave legal disputes and the like out of this service…)
We read it, and if we’re sure it’s safe to publish, then we will. In my head I’d like it look a little like this, where if someone’s submitted something, a little red devil appears at the relevant paragraph, or at the bottom of the story. Other readers could comment on the DAN, we’d link to all the relevant source material and maybe even include a rating system so people could choose which story they prefer.
(Or what about a website where you could go to submit your DAN, complete with links to the original, and the sources?)

And that’s it. I know it could be a minefield, and a magnet for trolls. And I know it would rely on the readers to take it in the spirit we intend it (a sort of news version of Bad Science) rather than an alternative to complaining when they have a legitimate concern about accuracy.

So the question is: is it a) unworkable; b) idiotic; or c) not a terrible idea? Vote now!

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2 thoughts on “Radical or ridiculous? Idea #2: Devil’s Advocate News

  1. gingerelvis says:

    I think a lot of readers are getting disillusioned by sensationalist reporting.
    The public are a lot more media savvy than five or ten years ago and are more distrustful of what they read than ever before.
    Many are looking at the reasons why a story has been reported in a certain way rather than trusting what the photographer saw (to misquote Neil Tennant).

    I certainly think there needs to be a shift back towards the balanced and unbiased, but how to do that I’m less sure as there are reasons why we “pick an angle”.
    The most obvious is we have to draw the reader in. If you play everything straight, will anyone want to read your product?

    I think your idea has some merits, but the biggest problem would be the public’s apathy.
    Only those with a strong opposing view or an agenda will take part – I’m not sure how much the average reader would get involved.

  2. It’s not a terrible idea at all, though Gingerelvis’ point sticks with me – in many ways I can only imagine the people with an axe to grind – who already get to grind those axes in plenty of other places – taking part.

    However, the main flaw isn’t yours, here, I think. The problem is that early assertion, which I know isn’t yours but is actually cultural, that all news reporting needs an angle.

    As I just mentioned, there are plenty of outlets for opinion, now, and while journalism couldn’t have anticipated the rise of the internet or the increase of public input into news coverage, the institution finds itself ill-equipped to deal with this new world BECAUSE it has been labouring under the idea that it needs to provide added value instead of accuracy or objectivity for all this time.

    Certainly, I find myself wondering when I read stories now why so much seemingly vital information is missing from news stories.

    It occurs to me now that this is an ENTIRELY predictable response coming from me!

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