How interpretation changes stories

27 Mar

When a news organization receives information, the leanings of the publication and of the journalist immediately begin to color the story.  Because of this, two organizations can receive the same information and create two very different stories based upon the same facts. This is exactly what happened with the USA Today and the New York Times when they covered a poll of the Afghan citizens. Both organizations received the same numbers on how safe the population of Afghanistan felt, but drew very different conclusions.

The story by USA Today did a good job of telling the story and including many statistics pulled from the report. The USA Today story seemed less biased, although both stories had obvious spins on them. The USA Today story had bullet points taken verbatim from the report made the data somewhat more reliable and believable.  However, even some of the bullet points seemed to be placed next to statistics that would make them seem more positive than they really were. Also, this story included dissenting opinions, albeit at the very bottom, stating that some of the more positive statistics seems difficult to believe.

The New York Times had a less positive view of the situation than USA Today. They saw the decrease in security that the Afghan people felt was significant. The New York Times story presented the facts in a graphic, which is a good way to remove the bias of text around numbers. However, the title of the graph stated that Afghans are losing confidence, rather than letting the readers interpret the graph for themselves.

Both stories looked at the same report and took from it what they expected to see based on the writer’s preconceived notions about the situation in Afghanistan. In reality, this should have been a report that the amount of security that the Afghan people felt was down from a few years before but overall had increased since American forces had intervened. While both stories mention this point, neither of them focused on this, since it is not very strong or telling one way or the other. It is simply not that interesting of a story to report that things are marginally worse but generally improved. Both organizations chose to tell a good story that fit with the narrative in the minds of their journalist rather than the facts.




One Response to “How interpretation changes stories”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers March 31, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    % marks in story – not AP style

    Your story avoids the longitudinal context of the previous poll

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