Media literacy lesson: Covering story is not the same thing as covering the news.

Posted by on Jul 1, 2012

“We’ll cover the story”

You’ll hear that from some news outlets. “Getting the story.”

Though some media outlets tend to use the terms interchangeably, getting the “news” and a “story” are not the same thing. A story, which could simply be a tale or a narrative (like Cinderella), is not the same thing as the presenting relevant news or the facts of a situation. A person with strong media literacy skills knows that terms “news” and “story” are kind of like fraternal twins. Born at the same time, related and look like they’re related, but you still can’t treat them like they are the same.

A news network’s coverage of the plight of a boy’s tireless search looking for his dog and hearing anecdotes about much fun they had when they played together, even saving his life once, is a story. The news is that a boy lost his dog.

Coverage of a bombing that killed three and injured four people is news. How the bombing affects the lives of the families of those involved is a story. Covering a political party’s block of a bill is news. Focusing on the crazy antics they may have done in blocking the bill is a story. Be careful of stories when looking for news. Though they touch each other tangentially at some points of relevancy and fact, many times stories tend to divert from news fact. In many cases, stories move into the realm of human interest. A style of coverage that can emotionally distort your perception of an issue.

Following the story of the event over the news of the event, can lead you to collect different information and feel differently about the overall situation. Even come to a completely different conclusion. That’s why, for the sake of good media literacy skills, if you want the facts, follow the news. Actual news. If you want additional depth, emotional context or purposefully want to take in the human-interest angle, follow the story.

For more about this and to learn more about media literacy skills and avoid what I call “mental obesity,” read my book Does This News Make Me Look Fat? It’s available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore.

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