The longer I work in media, the more tempted I am to write a guide for the general public on how media works. And, given that I've only worked in media for a little more than a year, logic would imply that, at some point very soon, I'll succumb to temptation, leave my job at the Journal and devote a year to writing a book on how many exclamation marks press releases should include (fewer than five!!!!!), among other newsroom bugaboos. And, by "at some point very soon," I mean probably after my editor finishes reading this column and asks me to leave.
Five Shocking Ways Modern Media Tricks You Into Reading Long Things: You Won't Believe #6! (working title) will devote a whole chapter to buried truths. Most of us in journalism are familiar with the phrase "burying the lede," in which a writer takes the most interesting aspect of a story and "buries it" under exposition, like a Bay Area colleague who wrote about a drunk man arrested and tased by police, skipping over the fact that the arrestee was naked and dripping wet at the time. Buried truths are a different symptom endemic to the current state of the Fourth Estate in which inconvenient facts that would undermine the sensationalism of a story are tucked away at the very bottom.
Take a recent event that stampeded across headlines when the town of Hugo, Colorado, advised citizens not to drink or use public water after finding the supply had been tainted with THC. The story was picked up by local newspapers and made its way into the New York Times and onto National Public Radio. TIME Magazine included the chortle-worthy headline, "Colorado Town at Risk of Getting High on Its Own Water Supply." In my upcoming book, You're Doing Media All Wrong!!!!! – Here's How (another working title), I will advise savvy news readers to skip ahead to find the facts, in this case, that THC is not water soluble and, according to a statement by Lincoln County Health Officer John Fox, "It would take more product than any of us could afford to contaminate a city water supply to the extent that people would suffer any effects." Fox was quoted in the Denver Post, five paragraphs and three advertisements down, after the story noted that the FBI, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, local sheriff's office and mayor were all investigating the issue. But the headline "Town, State and Federal Officials Baffled by Simple Science," probably won't sell papers or swell the bladders of Hugo teenagers.
Another chapter in Twelve Sexy Tips to Make Your News Cycle HOT (feel free to email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org) will be devoted to general myopia and laziness. We know, thanks to the New York Times, that a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals a 150 percent jump in marijuana exposure among Colorado children since 2014. We also know Colorado's governor recently signed a bill banning gummy edibles shaped like fruit and animals because they're too attractive to children.
The Times article suggests marijuana toxicity in children might have been underreported in previous years, and parents are now giving more accurate information to emergency room doctors. What the Times fails to delve into is why these irresponsible fucking people have children. Isn't marijuana supposed to lower your sperm count? How hard is it to put your edibles where your kids won't find them? If you're going to get high, why not just be an adult and use a vaporizer instead of eating something that looks like a miniature neon stuffed bear? And if, God forbid, your kids do get into your stash and go to the ER, just tell the doctors the truth so they can give your offspring the best medical care possible. I promise not to put you on blast with a headline like, "Pothead Parents Poison PreTeens!!!!!"
That is, if I still work here.