Citizen Journalists Must Decide Which of the “Four Informations” They Want to Be Famous For

When you write news, you’re supposed to provide your readers, viewers and listeners with useful and reliable information. Have you noticed that the information you get on television, in the newspapers and on websites is not always either useful or reliable? Some of it is biased, some incomplete and too much of it is just hot air.

To help clarify matters, I have identified four categories of information as it relates to the news business: 1. There is straightforward, factpbased information, 2. misinformation, 3. disinformation and 4. spinformation. I will more fully define each category.

Information. This is what most news consumers’ want when they turn on a television or open a newspaper. They want trustworthy facts and pertinent details accompanied with reliable quotes from informed people packaged and presented in an interesting and coherent way.

Misinformation. For my purposes, misinformation does not include intentional deceit, although a complete definition of the word does. Here I’m referring to the unintentional mistakes we humans are prone to make. The other day a leading cable TV talking head referred to a U.S. senator as a governor. His informed viewers knew he did not intend to deceive them and quickly overlooked his misinformation.

Disinformation. This is the worst kind of information you can ever put out. Disinformation is intended to deceive or distract consumers from the truth. Those famous for disinformation are called liars. They use deception, distortion, hyperbole, propaganda, misstatement, and the intentional omission of significant facts to put forth a false story. The purveyors of false or misleading information are the bottom-feeding low-life of the news industry.

Spinformation. You’ve never heard that word, have you? There’s a reason - I just made it up to make my final point. Spinformation is my new word for spin. It is the press release from the politician caught in a scandal. It is the rant you get from the defense attorney after his client is found guilty. It is the hyperbole you get at the press conference where your favorite college team introduces their new football coach. Most of the time spinformation is easily recognized, usually harmless but also, not very useful.

Citizen journalist - what kind of information are you famous for?

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Ultimately, information comes from a source. The problem as I see it is identifying as clearly as possible the perspective of the source. Which requires asking questions.

What does the source seek to gain? (money, attention, alleviate a guilty conscience, payback, re-establish some balance of honesty or trust, etc)
How close to the original event was the source?
Are there other sources available?
Will the source identify themselves?

Just a few thoughts from someone who has had to deal with quite a number of anonymous sources over the last 6 years.