In what category—news, opinion or satire—would you place the following headlines?
• Zondervan releases ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Bible
• Publisher asserts China tariffs could lead to ‘Bible tax’ in US
• We suffer from information overload, and the cure is critical thinking
Your answers are important, not only because you are able to tell the difference, but because you took the time to think about it.
People increasingly are confused about truth and fiction. Fiction is taken as truth and shared via email and social media. Truth is taken as fiction and disregarded.
Add to the confusion the constant stream of radio, television, podcasts, social media, billboards and print media. Instead of slowing down to think about the intent of all of these messages, we feel overwhelmed and tune them out in self-defense.
To prevent information overload, we need to know what to take seriously and what to let go by us.
Opinion, satire, news—which is which
In case you are anxious to know which headline above is opinion, which is satire and which is news, the answers follow.
• Satire: Zondervan releases ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Bible
• News: Publisher asserts China tariffs could lead to ‘Bible tax’ in US
• Opinion: We suffer from information overload, and the cure is critical thinking
We all know what news is, or what it’s supposed to be. News is supposed to be new information about current or important events. It’s supposed to be free of factual errors. Ideally, it’s supposed to be free of bias, but bias will be part of all news as long as human vantage points differ.
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Differing vantage points shouldn’t trouble us too much, though. After all, the four Gospels represent differing vantage points, presenting us with a fuller and more reliable record of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.
Satire is intended to point out the absurdity of something by using humor, exaggeration and irony. The best satire hits close to home, making us laugh while we think.
Opinion is an expression of what someone thinks or feels about something. It is a person’s attempt to persuade, to change another’s thinking, feeling or actions. Opinions don’t necessarily rest in fact or knowledge, though the most respected opinions generally do.
The media’s responsibility
Believe it or not, most media outlets take seriously the issue of clearly presenting content. We have been talking among ourselves about best practices for differentiating news from opinion. Most of us do not want to mislead you, and we try not to associate with those who do (That was an attempt at humor).
It troubles us that some media outlets have been dubbed “fake news,” insinuating that what they publish is fiction, not even rising to the level of opinion or satire. Fake news goes against basic journalistic principles drilled into every journalism student. Journalists are supposed to tell the truth and report it fairly.
As journalists, we are just as interested as you are in ferreting out fakes from reality and presenting you with the truth. Fact-checking is just one way news organizations engage our responsibility to present you with the truth. We are not flawless fact-checkers, but we do take fact-checking seriously.
In our print form, newspaper sections make it easy to distinguish news from opinion, but in our digital form—the form in which most people access media—individual articles often are separated from their sections. Now, we must be more intentional about labeling the various kinds of content.
In the Baptist Standard, we have color-coded and labeled each type of content to set it apart from other types. We include a disclaimer—‘The views expressed are those solely of the author’—in the bio line of opinion content to indicate when authors represent themselves and not any organization.
The reader’s responsibility
Content production and content consumption is not a one-way relationship; it is a dialogue. Each contributor to a dialogue is a responsible agent. Just as the media are responsible for how they present content, readers are responsible for how we receive it.
In the words of a classic Josh McDowell title, don’t check your brains at the door. Stay engaged in the conversation.
Don’t allow yourself to become overloaded with a deluge of media to the point where you aren’t able to think critically about what you see, hear and read. Meter your media intake so you have time to process what you are reading.
Don’t believe everything you see, hear and read. Check it against other sources, even opposing sources.
Consider the source. When you see a grabby headline in a friend’s Facebook feed, look at the source of that headline before attributing meaning, intent or value to the content of the article.
Check the date. There are news stories being passed off as current—as in happening right now—that have been circulating for years. In other words, it isn’t news anymore.
Look for value words like ‘should,’ ‘ought,’ ‘must’ and ‘why.’ Value words signal someone’s opinion, which may be presented like a doctor’s orders but don’t necessarily carry the same weight—present company excluded (another attempt at humor).
And engage with the author—respectfully, please. Seek clarification. Ask questions. Authors often appreciate the opportunity to make their meaning clear.
Is the Baptist Standard opinion, news or satire?
The Baptist Standard is a source of Baptist news, opinion and resources—rarely satire. Our intent is to inform, inspire and challenge people to follow Jesus. We are committed to historic Baptist principles, journalistic excellence—truth and fairness, and the redeeming and reconciling work of Jesus Christ. We want to be connected with our readers and to help our readers be connected with each other.
To be connected and stay connected, we have to keep talking to each other. That isn’t news. It’s definitely not satire. But it’s more than mere opinion.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.