Today I’m remembering a conversation I had with my editor when I was an editorial assistant for a publishing company. We were sitting on the floor of her office going through the slush pile, when I began reading a pitch for an article for one of our local magazines offering an in depth look at why it’s a bad idea to open a proposed superstore in lower Manhattan. The pitch was well written and had me at “hello.” I told my editor it was a keeper. She suggested I read it again, and this time I include the author’s bio and past experience. After following her instructions I realized this person had an agenda. He owned the store across the street from this proposed superstore and was about to lose business. She couldn’t count on him to offer a balanced perspective.
“The words are powerful, aren’t they” My editor asked. “However, I believe the motive speaks volumes.”
This conversation with my former editor caused me to take another look at the way I enjoy news and information. For example:
- Why is the author writing this piece? Is it to sell a product or discredit a competitor?
- Are there valid points being made or is it nitpicking trivial details? It’s one thing to report real actual news, it’s another to call the subject an article a poopyhead.
- Is the author relaying a real, actual piece of news or pushing a point of view?
- What is the article’s tone? Angry? Positive? Neutral? Slanted?
- What is the author’s history? Does the author have it in for tree huggers or corporate executives? Sometimes that type of disapproval or hatred shows through in the writing.
One of the reasons I can’t stand the big cable news channels is because they can’t be counted on to give a fair or balanced point of view. I can’t rely on FOX or CNN to give a fair tone about the opposing political party at all. The same goes for certain magazines and newspapers. If I see an especially heated article, I like to ask myself what’s going on behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s a real eye opener.
I’m not saying every writer has a motive, but you’d be surprised at how many do.
What are some examples you can give of motives taking precedence over words? How do you spot a writer with an agenda?