The Weird Things That Newspapers Do

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

Things That Make Your Shake Your Head

When is a dateline not a dateline?

Now, I’m not talking about the prime time news program on NBC at WTAP called “Dateline.”

I mean a dateline as in the name of the city, state or country that a news story in a newspaper originates from.
 
The Associated Press, says its datelines “should tell the reader that the AP obtained the basic information for the story IN the datelined city.” (My emphasis added.)

For example, if you’re reading a story in a newspaper or on-line, and the action is taking place in New York, you might see the words NEW YORK in capital letters before the story begins.
 
That’s to tell you that the person writing the story was actually IN New York when the story was written, and not sitting somewhere else, just taking in information and compiling a story.
 
That brings me to the Orange Bowl.
 
You may have seen the reports that WTAP’s Rich Donnelly did from Miami in the days leading up to the big game. Then he stayed, shot some footage during the game itself, attended the post-game news conferences, and sent all of that back to us to use.
 
Rich was actually IN Miami when he did those stories.
 
The local newspaper, chose NOT to send anyone to cover the big game. That’s OK. That’s its choice.
 
But when the newspaper did a story about the game on Thursday morning, after the fact, it bore a MIAMI dateline.
 
We know, for certain, that the author of that story did NOT go to the game. He, like most of us, sat here in the Mid-Ohio Valley and watched the game on TV.
 
The fact that he put a dateline of MIAMI on his story, is mis-leading and deceptive. It leads readers to believe he was actually in attendance at the game in Florida.
 
This happens all the time in the local newspaper and it’s not right.
 
The AP says that “If a radio broadcast, monitored in another city was the source of information, use the dateline of the city where the monitoring took place, and mention the fact in the story.”  I’m assuming, this would apply to TV broadcasts as well. And in this case, the writer should have said whether he was listening to the game on radio in Marietta, or watching on TV in Parkersburg.
 
A dateline should reflect where a story was written. If a story is written locally, the newspaper usually does not put any dateline on it, to keep from wasting space telling you that most of the stories were written locally.
 
Am I being nit-picky? Perhaps.
 
But in this age where it’s difficult to tell where news comes from, this mis-use of datelines, is dis-honest.
 
This is an effort to confuse the reader or to fool the reader into thinking that the newspaper went to the time and expense to send its own reporter down to the game, which it did not.
 
Of course, this is the same newspaper that does an annual Readers' Choice contest, which is judged in secrecy by the newspaper sales staff rather than being counted out in the open by people not associated with the newspaper. The newspaper has no controls to see if people are submitting multiple entries. Remember the recent rash of newspaper thefts? Perhaps those newspapers were being stolen by people wanting to rig that selection process! The thefts seemed to stop when the contest ended.
 
One more thing.
 
WTAP very seldom uses the newspaper as the sole source for a news story. We take a look at the paper every day, just as the folks at  the newspaper watch our newscasts.
 
On those rare occasions when the newspaper has a story that we feel is important enough to share with our viewers, but we cannot independently confirm the facts due to time or other constraints, we try to say “according to the Parkersburg News-Sentinel.”
 
We do this for two reasons: (1) because it’s the right thing to do and (2) in case the newspaper has its facts wrong, we want you to know the source of our information.
 
We know that the newspaper occasionally uses information it lifts directly from our newscasts or our website, but the newspaper never cites WTAP as the source for that information.
 
Just another example of the newspaper not being totally up-front with its readers.
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