(March 27, 2006) “Off the Front Page,” or OFP, will be a regular feature in the Twin Cities Daily Planet Media section. This feature is inspired by a comment once made by legendary journalist and muckraker I.F. Stone, who reportedly said, “The great thing about The New York Times and The Washington Post is that you never know where you’ll find a front page story.” It’s the same with every major media outlet, and our own local newspapers are no exception.
Every edition of OFP will feature a story or two that I think should have been on the front pages, but that were actually found in a lesser location in the news. Readers are invited to submit their own OFP ideas. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The fundamental job of a journalist is to ask questions. That is, a journalist goes to places where you and I cannot or do not go, and when they get there, their job is to ask the questions that we (the readers/viewers) would ask if we were there. The news articles or newscasts that we later see are made up of the answers to those questions. Those answers, since they reach thousands or millions of people in their homes and offices, have a lot of power to shape the public’s understanding of the issues of the day.
One of the things that is shaped by the mass media is the accepted idea of what is “most important,” what is “less important,” and what is “not important.” You can spot the things that “news professionals” consider “most important” because those are the things that appear on the front pages (or, in the electronic media, at the “top of the hour,” or the beginning of the newscast). The less important things go on the inside pages, get less space, or both. The “not important” things, of course, we never see in the newspaper or on the TV. Occasionally OFP will feature these “not important” items; usually they will be the “less important” ones.
Step Number One in learning how to use the media well is to come up with your own questions before you look at the news. That way, you can go looking for the answers wherever they are, and not just take what is given to you. Often I have found that the answers that are most important to me are not on the front page, and my experience in the classes I have taught on media is that this is true for many of us.
In “Off The Front Page” I will call to your attention some of these stories, tell you where I found them, and then talk about why I think they should have been on the front page. My hope is that this feature will, over time, help to make it a little easier for readers of the Daily Planet to remember to think of your own questions when taking in “the news.” In the process, we can learn to keep our own values and priorities in focus, thus making it a little less likely that we will internalize the values and priorities of the large corporations that we call “the media.”