I began to understand the importance of reading between the lines of the news when my community appeared on the front page of the newspaper last October. The headline read, “Three dead in ammonia leak at hockey arena in Fernie, B.C.” Further in the article, the public were asked to avoid the area.
Even though the article did not state the reasons to avoid the site, it was certainly possible to make some predictions as to why. It could have been for the health and safety of the public, as there was deadly gas in the air. It was possible that the statement was made in an effort to allow investigators to do their jobs without distraction, or it might have been to ensure the privacy of those involved and those who might have been grieving a loss.
It is always important to consider everything that is reported in the news both directly and indirectly, or between the lines, before we act. Someone from outside of Fernie, for example, may not have considered all of those possibilities and might have chosen to go to the accident site to see for themselves the drama that was unfolding. Even locals could have been tempted to complain about not getting access to their belongings in the arena had they not thought more deeply about the request to stay away from the area.
So how can we start deciphering the real news?
Start with the headlines, but don’t stop there. Reporters write headlines to make everything sound extraordinary. You might initially read, “Reports of E. coli in swimming water!” However, when you read the full article it becomes clear that the levels are minuscule and completely safe.
Consider the missing information. A news report that states an increase in injuries from trampolines may not state the increase in privately owned trampolines. Without this consideration, you might think trampolines are becoming more dangerous or that users are becoming more careless.
Ask yourself questions. “Moose charges local man.” Was this an aggressive moose? Or was it an aggressive man? Who knows?
Think bigger. Think about the big picture. How does the story you are reading fit into the current bigger picture? If an article is discussing lowering the legal blood alcohol level for driving, you might need to consider more than just how this will affect you. What is happening on a larger scale to make this necessary?
I am not telling you not to believe the news. I am not saying there is a conspiracy or questioning the validity of the news. I am simply suggesting that we all read deeper when we read, watch or listen to the news. There is often more to the story than what the words explain. It is our job to decipher what is not being said.
Community Literacy Coordinator
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy – Elk Valley