Is the glass half empty or half full? That’s a dilemma we all face when looking at various issues, incidents and even life itself.
To be honest, my own tendecy, as a reporter, was to tend to the half-empty perspective … made for better stories, more drama, greater emphasis on the need to improve. However, in my personal life, I lean towards the half-full perspective … life is good, I have been comparatively blessed, and even though things could always be better, I really can’t complain.
Governments and opposition parties are similarly biased: by their very nature, governments always view themselves as doing a good job, even a great job; but the opposition sees them as falling short, sometimes disastrously so. Each is playing the game according to the rules, established over decades of precedents, tradition and even fulfilling the constitutional roles set out for them.
But how the media play stories is much more interesting and telling from my point of view.
It’s all part of how they see performance in the “game” governments, politicians, organizations and individuals play … and the perspective the media offer can be very telling … VERY telling indeed.
But the truth is few people really notice the difference or are aware how they perhaps are being “played”, manipulated, programmed. I’m trying to change that with this blog.
For example, just recently, the BC government announced the final deficit figure for the 2009-2010 fiscal year is $1.7 Billion.
The hard facts are VERY clear:
BEFORE the election the government said it expected (predicted) the deficit would be “$495 million MAXIMUM”. Now, everybody knows, or should know, that governments always try to make things look as rosy as possible … even negative news like deficits … before an election.
AFTER the election, the government … now esconced in office for another term … changed its prediction only weeks later to predict a “$2.775 billion” deficit.
That’s a HUGE change: and a sceptic like me, if I was still working, would have suggested this was done for multiple reasons: first of all, the pre-election estimate had been low-balled for political reasons; secondly, the post-election new estimate was deliberately inflated, so that when the final figures come in at less, the government would look good, and the deficit not so bad (if that’s possible with such a large deficit.)
So, I was not at all surprised when Finance Minister Colin Hansen announced the FINAL deficit was $1.779 Billion.
But take a look at this:
In the Vancouver Sun, the Front Page lead story headline proclaimed: “Province cuts spending, deficit drops $996 million”.
In my view, the government’s own Public Affairs Bureau couldn’t have written the headline from a more “positive” perspective!
Here’s the first paragraph of the story that followed:
“Dramatic spending cuts have helped slash British Columbia’s deficit by $996 million for the last fiscal year, driving it down to $1,779 billion, Finance Minister Colin Hansen said Thursday,” wrote reporter Jonathan Fowlie.
And the sub-headline: “No room to expand program funding, finance minister says.”
Talk about spin! I can undertand exactly why Hansen would play it that way … but I was appalled at the way The Sun headline and story opening played it that way, parotting the government’s view. Looked to me like they were swallowing the government’s line (PAB?) hook, line … and stinker.
The story included all the actual figures … but the headline and opening slant, if I can call it that, was in my view exactly what the government had probably hoped for!
Now look at the way The Province played the same story:
The headline: “Deficit soars like Whistler’s peaks”.
What a difference! And I’d bet not so pleasing to the government and the PAB!
The first paragraphs:
“You Gotta Be Here — but it’ll cost you $38 million.
“The star-studded campaign’s price tag … with Michael J. Fox, Kim Cattrall, Steve Nash and Sarah McLachlan extolling B.C.’s virtues … was a surprise lurking amid the final deficit figure of $1.7 billion for the BC Liberals in tumultuous 2009-10,” wrote Province reporter Ian Austin.
I liked that. Much more entertaining, and much more reflective of the healthy cynicsim I feel journalists should have in dissecting and reporting political news. And this story too included all the actual figures.
And the sub headline, I thought, was also much more critical: “FINAL FIGURE $1.7 BILLION: Critic slams star-studded TV spots amid cuts for sports, arts”
Right on! or should I say Write on!
I cannot say what led to the headlines or how the same story was presented so differently … and really don’t know if this was a one-time or consistent trend by the reporters involved (please no nasty personal comments or diatribes about either!).
I don’t even know if this particular incident is sufficient to reveal the newspapers’ differing overall attitudes or editorial policies.
But I hope people, starting with my own blog readers, will start to look much more carefully at how headlines and story angles can be used to shape public opinion.
Watch those headlines! Watch those opening paragraphs!
And over time, you will understand much more than most where any newspaper is coming from … and where it is heading.