Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Establishing credibility Part I

I remember when the evening television news anchor was the most trusted man in America. When Walter Cronkite said "...and that's the way it is," we knew that that was indeed, the way it is. It wasn't his opinion. It wasn't his spin, or his interpretation of the a situation. It was the News with a capital N and that meant facts, just the facts, and nothing but the facts.

Cronkite had that trust because he had developed a reputation and his credibility was beyond reproach. Honestly, that's the way I prefer my news. Give me the facts, and let me decide what I feel about the situation on my own. I don't need a triumvirate of morning show hosts to shake their heads and pass judgment on the news as if their opinion is more valid than that of anyone else.

Unfortunately, though, as Walter might have said that's the way it is these days. Commentary, opinion and facts are all ingredients in today's news recipe. Some recipes may call for more of one ingredient than the others. The net result, however, is that hardly any of us would volunteer the name of a modern day news anchor as the most trusted person in America these days.

As news writers, however, it is our jobs to present the news in a credible fashion. If the reader doesn't believe what we write, then we are wasting their time with our words. Simply saying something that's true doesn't always automatically translate into believability. As professional writers it is our jobs to choose words carefully. We can choose words for their emotional connotations, and that's fine, as long as we are also careful to use words and write with a credible voice, using solid logic applied to verifiable facts.

If I write that the most popular car color is red, I need to support and qualify that statement. Without that support it is not a credible statement and it detracts from any point I want to make in whatever I'm writing. After all, if I am caught in an error one time, the reader can only assume that the rest of my article is questionable as well.

To support the fact that the most popular car color is red, for example, There are several ways to go. I can remove my credibility from the equation altogether by attributing the statement to someone else. If I say "Joe Smith, the owner of Joe Smith's Fine Used Cars in Hoboken, New Jersey, told me that the most popular car color is red," then the reader can make a judgement about the validity of the information based upon their opinion of Joe Smith's credibility and his qualifications to make such as judgement.

Whatever the reader decides about Joe Smith, I, as the author, cannot be judged on the relative merit of that statement unless, in the rest of my article I assign it some credibility that differs from the reader's assumption. If I say "therefore, my recommendation for car companies to save money is to only make red cars because it is the most popular color," then I have added my reputation and credibility on top of Joe Smith's by personally validating his statement. Now again, my credibility is on the line with the reader.

Every fact or statement in a news piece either builds on the writer's credibility because it is explicitly sourced, or it relies on the credibility capital the writer has already built with the reader. A news writer's credibility balance sheet cannot go into negative territory or readers (and editors) will decide that your article has no real worth to them.

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