“And be more aware of what’s not gettin’ airplay …”

So beware what’s on the airwaves
And be more aware of what’s not gettin’ airplay
Independent spirit, you can barely hear what they’re sayin’
Truth ain’t getting on like shampoo on an airplane
Propaganda’s everywhere, constantly on replay
All the hits, all the time, back-to-back on relay

– “State Run Radio,” Lupe Fiasco

***

One thing you learn, early on, in journalism is how to suss out and/or dig deeper into the information, and how to find out the whole story – or at least more of the story, as it’s told by all the facts and evidence.

As my friend Philip used to say, “Don’t just buy what they sell you.” It’s another reason why journalism is necessary – to tell each side of the story and to help maintain accountability in our community and in our society.

A former coworker covered  the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and came back with two copies of the China Daily, the national English daily newspaper.

There was plenty of coverage of the Summer Games. Lots of color photos splashed across the front pages of Michael Phelps, who was on his way to becoming one of the world’s most decorated Olympians. Yet neither issue of the China Daily mentioned the stabbing death of an American – the father-in-law of an Olympic volleyball coach and father of a former Olympian – in front of the Drum Tower in Beijing.

The China Daily is a state-run publication. Given the state of affairs in communist China, the publication typically follows the government’s agenda.

You don’t write for the paper. The paper writes for you. (Or something like that.)

Because of that, some information is shielded from the public … and it’s not something that’s unique to a nation under an authoritarian-socialist-communist regime.

There’s so much information that’s out there, but how much of it is spoon-fed to us by organizations, who are directing their own message? How much else are we filtering in or out? And are we only consuming what’s fed to us, or are we also seeking out further information to support – or discredit – those spoon-fed nuggets and claims?

A story recently ran on sportsjournalism.org about how college and professional sports organizations aren’t just covering the media anymore. They’re becoming the media. 

Major-league sports organizations are turning to online and social media to direct – and sometimes to control – their messages. We’re consuming it, too, though it should come with some skepticism. One example: when Vanderbilt announced the hiring of football coach James Franklin on its official Facebook page.

From sportsjournalism.org, on the announcement:

It created a bit of a stir with the media … John Taylor, who writes for the now NBC-owned College Football Talk website, ridiculed the announcement: “We’re assuming that Franklin will announce his offensive and defensive coordinators via Twitter, while he’ll name the remainder of his coaching staff during a private CoverItLive chat.”

Vanderbilt leveraged the one thing it had – information – and disseminated it on its terms, on its platforms, to its audience.

The other major “news” commodity that leagues and teams have figured out they can leverage is exclusive access. While professional leagues, most notably Major League Baseball, have centralized and controlled game highlights, there is so much more content that can be leveraged if teams and colleges are willing to share it.

Another instance – the Pittsburgh Penguins announced Sidney Crosby’s latest concussion-related absence on its official team website.

“I just want to be smart with this,” Crosby said to pittsburghpenguins.com. “It’s been a long road back and we want to err on the side of caution.”

But what happens when something newsworthy – yet casts the organization or institution in a less-than-stellar light – goes down?

Will any major-league organization post a Facebook status update about a player’s arrest for alleged domestic violence or suspicion of drunk driving?

Or will a team owner break the news of a coach’s firing on his personal website?

Do college programs post player suspensions on a Tumblr or a Twitter account?

Are we, the readers and the public, being spoon-fed that information? Most likely, we aren’t.

Sometimes, those stories are given exclusively to certain media outlets, though with the constant news cycle, the “exclusive” is going the way of the dinosaur and the AMC Pacer. Other times, they emerge after careful combing of the police blotters … or of an athlete’s Twitter or public Facebook account. Or information may emerge after the fact, through phone conversations, emails or face-to-face exchanges.

Otherwise, sussing out the facts is a vital part of being a journalist. Because some organizations are only giving you half the story. In a way, it’s akin to state-run media.

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