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How Real are Newspaper Stories?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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The question of credibility in newspaper stories has been around since newspapers first appeared. Many people read them with a skeptical eye. More and more people are waking up to the fact that newspaper articles are not 100% truthful. In the age of mass media, with newspapers and television shows vying for the exclusive scoop, many facts are exaggerated beyond reasonable doubt.

A recent survey on the believability of newspapers showed that only 17% of people found their daily newspaper to be completely believable. Believability figures for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were as low as 50%. So is the world now populated by media savvy cynical readers, or have people simply lost faith in the media as a whole?

One of the major factors in the believability of newspaper stories is the anonymous source. This refers to people who frequently crop up in newspaper articles giving an opinion or insider knowledge on a story. The contending issue is, of course, that the anonymous source is never named. The use of the anonymous source can be seen as far back as Deep Throat in the Watergate Scandal expose by The Washington Post in the 1970s.

A reporter will never give up the name of his or her anonymous source; it is considered part and parcel of journalistic ethics. However, the New York Times recently had to print four pages of apologies for the fabrications of reporter Jason Blair. Blair's newspaper stories appeared over a three year span and were found to be full of fraudulent facts and information. A majority of unchecked fabrications were contained in anonymous source quotations.

This was not to be the only time that apologies would be printed for the fabrication of newspaper articles. Rick Bragg, another Times reporter, was forced to resign after his stories were found to be fraudulent. USA Today reporter Jack Kelley fabricated numerous stories, including his own eyewitness account of a cafe bombing in Israel.

In some instances, the public know that newspaper stories are simply false or exaggerated. The British tabloid press are some of the worst storytellers in the world. A huge percentage of these daily newspapers are filled with exclusive celebrity stories told by close friends. It is well known that the so-called close friend is actually the celebrity looking for extra publicity.

There is also the fact that many newspapers are biased towards one particular political party. The editors may run political stories favoring their political party, along with newspaper stories that make the opposing political party look like devil worshipers at best. The old saying of don't believe everything you read in the newspapers should be kept in mind when reading a large percentage of newspaper stories, especially those that frequently quote anonymous sources as their key fact givers.

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Discussion Comments
By anon44695 — On Sep 09, 2009

One of the best ways to determine the credibility level of a news story, or any news outlet, is to see if you can get the same facts the reporter did. Can you go to the courthouse and ask for the same documents? Can you call the same public officials and ask the same questions? Watergate aside, obviously, if you can, then the newspaper is being honest.

Anonymous sources should be used sparingly, if at all, and any reporter worth his or her salt will tell you this. If they want to remain anonymous, most reporters automatically consider their information to be suspect.

Even if a newspaper leans in a particular direction politically, the editorial page should carry at least a few columns by writers of the party opposite. This is another way to test a newspaper's objectivity. Even if the in-house editorials consistently favor one party over another, this is not necessarily reflected in their coverage of local news. A discerning reader will look to see if the paper is keeping a weather eye on all public officials, regardless of party affiliation, and is holding them accountable to the public.

One thing a reader can count on in reading any story is that there are always at least two sides to any story, and that a good reporter tries to present both sides, and then allow the reader to make up his or her own mind about where the truth actually resides. A reader, then, should always keep an open mind about any stories, and as the writer of this article noted, look upon an abundance of "anonymous" sources with a jaundiced eye.

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